New Orleans novelist and art collector Bradley (My Juliet, 2000, etc.) dogs the footsteps of an ex-reporter in trying to track down the whereabouts of a lost masterpiece.
The Yankees, who have dominated the art trade in the US, have never had much use for southerners—unless, of course, they moved up north—so it’s not very odd that Levette Asmore, one of the greatest New Orleans painters of the 20th century, is virtually unknown outside of his hometown. Orphaned during the Great Louisiana Flood of 1927, Asmore grew up in institutions and painted his first work (on a window shade) at age six. He later made a name for himself with his raw, highly sexualized depictions of black women but ruined his career when he painted a WPA post office mural that portrayed blacks dancing with whites. In 1930s New Orleans, this was beyond the pale, and in 1941 Asmore was forced to paint over his mural. He committed suicide not long after and fell into obscurity, remembered only by academics and serious connoisseurs. One of these is art restorer Rhys Goudreau, who many years later reads of the controversy surrounding the mural and becomes obsessed with finding it. She teams up on this quest with Jack Charbonnet, a former reporter from the Times-Picayune who is more interested in Rhys than Asmore. Like all good sleuths, though, Jack has a nose for the odd coincidence. What is the connection, for example, between Wiltz Lowenthal, who donated most of the Asmore collection to the local museum, and Jack’s landlord, Charles Lowenthal, a reclusive art collector who rarely leaves his house? And what is Jack to make of Rhys’s story of her half-black grandmother’s love affair with the white Asmore? Was there more to Asmore’s suicide than the destruction of his mural? What if it hadn’t been destroyed at all?
Good entertainment, with plenty of local color and an interesting take on southern art and mores.