McShane, whose plots and characters are varied and many (Sâ€šance on a Wet Afternoon, etc.), here gives gus Timothy Hame, a lesser-known London art critic and world-class bounder rocked by envy, ennui, and a self-obsession bordering on madness. Chance encounter with a country couple whose daughter, Victoria, paints incoherent daubs in a shed on the family farm presents Timothy with an idea challenging enough to relieve his boredom--one that may give him an edge in the never-ending game of one-upmanship that he plays with more prestigious critics: He will quietly leak his discovery of a major new talent, using his connection to a respected gallery to spotlight Miss X's first publicly shown picture. All goes well, in fact, until Victoria's plain-spoken father unexpectedly objects and Timothy decides to get rid of him in a seemingly foolproof way. It isn't foolproof, of course--there are extortion threats, along with another killing, before the prosaic but devastating denouement draws a shroud over Timothy and his career. An incisive swipe at art-world hype and hypocrisy, slightly undermined by the author's sometimes affected style and his one-note central character. Art buffs might enjoy, however.