A free-wheeling painter accepts a short-term assignment as a tutor at a bedeviled art academy.
Painting doesn’t always pay the cost of running Mill House, the three acres of dilapidated buildings Chris Honeysett (Worthless Remains, 2013, etc.) shares with fellow artist Annis Jordan. That is, when Annis isn’t also bestowing her favors on Tim Bigwood, the third partner in Aqua Investigations, Chris’ bread-and-butter job. Unusually, this time, it’s detective work that gets put on the back burner. John Birtwhistle, owner of Bath Arts Academy, keels over dead at the wheel of his Volvo while ostensibly on his way to invite Chris to participate in an exhibition, but really it’s an attempt to try to sweet-talk him into coming back temporarily to teach. After thinking it over, Chris agrees to Birtwhistle’s posthumous request. He’s taught at BAA once before, and he’s eager to rejoin old colleagues like Elisabeth Kroog, the elderly, irascible, pipe-smoking sculptor who mangles his name and everyone else’s. He even agrees to help administrator Claire Kilburn set up the exhibition, and soon painters Dawn Fowling and Kurt Hufnagel set up their easels at BAA. Sculptor Rachel Eade works on her installation on the school’s grounds. Only Greg Landacker, the most prestigious of the invitees, prefers to work on his own at The Old Forge, his posh studio in Motterton. But all hell eventually breaks loose, as break-ins, vandalism, and mysterious butterfly-shaped graffiti invade not only BAA, but the artists’ private spaces. All too soon, it looks as if Honeysett will have to put away his palette and whip out his surveillance camera, as the mischief escalates to murder.
The mystery itself is nothing more than a curlicue in a jam-packed Hieronymus Bosch canvas filled with the good, the bad and the just plain wacky.