Email this review


The least contorted or pretentious of Leopold's four WW II black comedies so far, this one is a relatively conventional treasure-hunt/chase affair--with everyone on the 1940 Riviera searching and brawling for an un-catalogued preliminary sketch of Picasso's 1930s masterpiece, ""Night Fishing at Antibes."" The picture hangs on the wall at the villa of HÉlène Colmar, former mistress of a Picasso chum named Michel AndrÉ (recently deceased in a mountain-climbing fall). And the two primary fighters for possession of the sketch are HÉlène's two current lovers: Italian aristocrat Jerome di Cavazza and divorced British ne'er-do-well Dominick Craufurd, who share HÉlène's favors according to which of them has won at the Casino. Why the great yen for the picture? Well, Cavazza wants it because he's a reluctant spy for the invading Italian army--and they believe that some French naval secrets are somehow incorporated into Picasso's design. But before Cavazza can grab it, Craufurd takes it to sell it on HÉlène's behalf--to slimy, Picasso-mad N.Y. art dealer Marvin Huntingdon. And the violence soon escalates--as HÉlène is murdered; Huntingdon steals the picture from the Craufurd home (where young governess Audrey Hopkirk remains comically cool under fire); Jerome nabs the picture when Huntingdon dies suspiciously at the British Consulate; and. . . Michel AndrÉ returns from the dead, also wanting the picture, and kinkily kidnapping governess Audrey in order to force Cavazza and Craufurd to hand it over. They don't, of course: instead they team up to rescue Audrey (both come to love her) and figure out the secrets of the painting before some hectic bloodshed and implausible twists usher in the finale. Neither very believable nor especially funny, then, with heroes who are more eccentric than engaging; but the period Riviera backgrounds are raffishly done, and it's a jaunty, skittish concoction overall, without the belabored ironies and febrile prose which made Leopold's earlier books so hard to take.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (North Pomfret, VT 05053)