UNDER THE HAMMER by Richard Harton


The Adventures of an Auctioneer
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 The fitfully entertaining adventures of an Englishman who enters the auction business expecting to find a hushed, cultured environment filled with fine gentlemen and women, and instead finds a quirky world peopled with myriad colorful characters. Harton begins with his applying at age 17 for a job at Charles Wilson and Co., Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers in Kington, England. The book takes off slowly with self-conscious descriptions of the ``eccentric'' firm and tedious tales of such common rites of passage as learning how to drive. By the middle of his narrative, however, Harton hits his stride and introduces one curious character after another. There's Mr. Rasely, a fellow art dealer whose ``sheen on his bespoke suits usually put our silver to shame''; Mrs. Pierce, a ``sparrow-like'' widow whose china gravy boat turns out to be a portable chamber pot worth over a thousand pounds; and Mrs. Weinberg, a lonely German cellist who frequents the auction house ``wheeling and dealing to supplement her income, trying to sell the things for a profit before she paid for them.'' Harton is often genuinely interesting and funny, but he has an unfortunate tendency to overdraw his characters, overemphasizing their accents (as in ``all roight than, Oy'll wait ter 'ear from 'em,'' or ``never mind, eet weel be our leetle secret'') and otherwise treating them in a condescending manner. He also introduces a love interest midway through that detracts from the narrative's main thrust and leaves the book's ending dangling in a most unsatisfying way. Harton is an amusing writer with many lively tales to tell, but he often overplays his hand and his observations lack depth.

Pub Date: July 19th, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-05981-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991