A third art-and-murder cocktail from Santlofer (Color Blind, 2004, etc.).
The same protagonist, too: Kate McKinnon, New York City cop turned modern art historian, but ready to sleuth again when family or friends are victims. Here, good friend and art patron Nicholas Starrett’s body is found in his Long Island home next to a slashed painting worth millions. A Pollock and a de Kooning have previously been slashed in the city. At each site, the vandal leaves small black-and-white paintings (the author, himself an artist, created and reproduced them in the book as a lagniappe); they provide clues to the killer’s next attack. It’s helpful, too, that all the paintings are by the New York School, those 1940s Abstract Expressionists about whom Kate is writing a book. (Santlofer cleverly commingles real and invented artists.) Six cases of murder plus vandalism form the main storyline, but there are two other major plot elements. One involves art world politics—the key to the identity of the killer—and offers a glimpse of a feisty old female painter reminiscing that shows Santlofer at his best. He’s at his worst, though, when detailing the fencing of stolen artwork. In an orgy of violence: a fence has her tongue cut out by her biggest client, a Colombian drug kingpin, while his goons kill two cops and a crooked museum director. Santlofer keeps Kate well away from this unpleasantness as she and Detective Murphy follow up those painting clues. At one point, Kate is way behind the reader in matching initials to a name, a disconcerting lapse for our art-savvy heroine. Still, she is always super-cool, even as her adrenaline surges, and she handles the climax with aplomb, though the full story of the killer/vandal is preposterous.
Some okay material about the New York School fails to redeem a generally lackluster effort.