A work of historical fiction reimagines the death of iconic painter Jackson Pollock as a murder mystery.
Juanita Diaz and her husband, Brian Fitzgerald, are both New York City police officers, and after 13 years of marriage, they’re long overdue for a vacation. They decide to take a respite with their son, TJ, to East Hampton, Long Island, a posh area known as a redoubt for successful artists and their dealers. In fact, it’s home to Pollock, notorious in the area for his reckless, alcohol-fueled driving. One evening, Juanita and Brian are driving home from dinner, and another car abruptly darts across their path and crashes. They quickly realize it’s Pollock’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88 turned upside down—he is obviously dead, and a female passenger precariously hangs on to life. Then they notice another female passenger in the back seat, sadly lifeless. At first glance, it all seems like a tragic accident, if predictable given Pollock’s reputation. But the medical examiner reports that the lifeless passenger, Edith Metzger, died before the car crashed from asphyxiation, likely caused by strangulation. The other passenger is Ruth Kligman, Edith’s roommate in New York City. Harrison (An Exquisite Corpse, 2016) expertly unravels Pollock’s sordid love life. He carried on a poorly concealed affair with Kligman, a source of humiliation for Pollock’s wife, the artist Lee Krasner. Juanita and Brian take a special interest in the case, which is complicated by Kligman being uncommunicative and a surfeit of plausible suspects, including Krasner, who not only had reasons to harbor contempt for Pollock, but a financial incentive as well: She is his only heir. The author conjures a dark whodunit out of a delightfully simple revision of history: In 1956, Pollock in fact died in a drunk-driving accident. She also paints an intriguing picture of the art world in the ’50s, filled with brilliantly creative but equally dysfunctional (and morally questionable) lovers of beauty. But the prose, especially the dialogue, suffers from an antiseptic, clichéd quality: “Kligman can confirm that when she comes to. If she comes to, that is.”
A refreshingly original reinvention of artistic history.