Fred Taylor’s latest errand for Boston collector Clayton Reed (Madonna of the Apes, 2005, etc.) takes him deep into a foundering art school.
The Stillton Academy of Art’s bid for collegiate accreditation would probably be on rocky ground already. The place has no admissions office, an acting director as clueless as she is imperious, and huge gaps in its curriculum, and its last, unreplaced registrar, Lillian Krasic, left under mysterious circumstances. Even more damaging to the Academy’s hopes for legitimacy is the vanishing of English instructor Morgan Flower, who seems to have left no paper trail or online traces, and his student Melissa Tutunjian, whose father, a power on the Stillton board, is curiously detached. Stillton advisor Abraham Baum and Parker Stillton, the scion who’s been invited to take a seat on the board, want Clay Reed to smooth the path to accreditation, though it’s never clear why they think he’s the man for the job. Because Clay has an undisclosed interest in the Academy, he bids Fred to go undercover as a teacher who can take over Flower’s classes, because everyone knows that teachers are the obvious people to ask nosy questions and snoop around. Despite the odds, Fred proves to be a very adept snoop indeed, and soon enough there are two violent deaths to keep him occupied.
The plotting is one unholy mess, with multiple murderers roaming the Stillton campus and inspired hunches that unlock apparently unguessable secrets. But Kilmer’s wit is so dry and unforced that every scene unfolds as high comedy in miniature.