Not content with writing one prequel showing how dogsbody Fred Taylor met his boss, Beacon Hill art collector Clayton Reed (Madonna of the Apes, 2005), Kilmer presents a second showing how he met his ladylove, librarian Molly Riley.
The meeting is ordinary—while his boss is out of the country at a wedding, Fred goes to the reference desk to follow up on a phone request for information—but the immediate effect isn’t. After meeting Molly, Fred, suddenly feeling in need of a haircut, stops by CUT-RATE-CUTS, where he overhears a conversation between Claire the stylist and Kim the receptionist and realizes that the mind-boggling new tattoo-in-progress he’s glimpsed on Kim’s back is evidently based on a hitherto unknown painting that just might be of serious interest to Clay Reed. Patiently and ingeniously, Fred stalks the painting, gathering scraps of information about it from the artist, Arthur Pendragon (né Schrecking); Sammy Flash, his colleague at A Fine Line; his mentor, Harley Kenzo (né Petersen); and Zoltan Zagoriski, who taught him art history at Nashua Central High. Although all these worthies are equally closemouthed about the possible inspiration for Kim’s tattoo, Fred knows he’s onto something when two of them die shortly after their conversations with him. Can Fred (A Butterfly in Flame, 2010, etc.) beat out nefarious New York dealer Lexington Orono for the prize before the rest of his unwilling informants are as dead as the Italian Renaissance?
Not much here for whodunit fans. The main interest—and properly so, as Clayton Reed might sniff—is in tracking down that painting and feasting on dialogue as distinctive in its way as Elmore Leonard’s.