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Posts Tagged ‘art gallery’

A BED OF SCORPIONS by Judith Flanders: Book Review

A Bed of Scorpions brings us back for a second visit with the delightful Samantha Clair.  Happy in her career as an editor at a London publishing house, she’s on her way to meet her long-time friend and former lover, Aidan Merriam, for lunch.  Entering their favorite Lebanese restaurant and arriving at their regular table, she’s surprised to find Aidan already seated.  With his very tight schedule, he’s never late but always arrives exactly on time.

Sam immediately thinks that something must be wrong, and when Aidan covers his face with his hands she’s sure of it.  But still she’s not prepared for the awful news–his friend and partner in their art gallery, Frank Compton, was found a day earlier at his desk, an apparent suicide.  And the detective investigating the death is Sam’s significant other, Jake Field.

A note on Frank’s computer saying “I’m sorry” neither adds nor subtracts from the idea of suicide.  But Frank hadn’t been ill, had had the same romantic partner for decades, and a forensic search of the gallery’s assets doesn’t turn up anything suspicious.  Although no one is completely satisfied that Frank killed himself, there’s nothing to prove that someone else killed him.  And there the matter rests.

The gallery is involved in an upcoming Edward Stevenson show to tie in with a major exhibit at the Tate.  Stevenson was an eccentric English artist who vanished more than twenty years earlier, leaving a note for his wife saying he was going to an ashram in India.  Apparently he had been interested in Eastern religions, so his wife didn’t think his leaving was too strange.  But when he never wrote again, and an investigation in India found no trace that he had ever been there, it became an unsolved mystery.  That is, until this year, when his skeleton was discovered in a house in Vermont that was being renovated.

Now that there’s major interest in Stevenson’s work, there’s also a conflict between the gallery and Stevenson’s heirs, his widow and their daughter.  It turns out that Sam met the daughter of the late artist a few days earlier, without realizing at the time who she was.  Celia Stevenson Stein is much more involved with the late artist’s estate than her mother has been, and it looks as if there may be financial ramifications for Aidan’s gallery.

As I wrote in my review of A Murder of Magpies, I really, really like Sam Clair and the people around her.  Sam is smart, funny, unsure around people she doesn’t know, and can be a bit sarcastic, all totally believable characteristics in a book editor, I imagine.  Her solicitor mother, Helena, is equally smart, perfectly dressed, and comfortable in any situation.  Well, at least they have one thing in common.  And there’s Jake, Sam’s lover; Sam’s goth and very efficient editorial assistant Miranda; and the mysterious Mr. Rudiger, an elderly architect who seems to have had an unusual life before he rented the flat upstairs from Sam.

A Bed of Scorpions is just as enjoyable as A Murder of Magpies, and that’s high praise.

You can read more about Judith Flanders at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.


LONG GONE by Alafair Burke: Book Review

Alice Humphrey has been unemployed for eight months, and she’s desperate for a job. Her career in the art world has been a rather undistinguished one, so when a chance meeting at a New York City art gallery produces a job offer from a charming stranger, she accepts despite the warnings of her best friend Lily.

Alice comes from a prominent, wealthy family, but not a particularly happy one.  Her father is an Oscar-winning director, her mother a former actress who also won an Oscar.  But their marriage has always been a rocky one, what with her father’s alcoholism and sexual affairs and her mother’s refusal to deal with anything that would disturb her life.  And Alice’s older brother, Ben, is a drug addict, perhaps recovering, perhaps not.

The gallery Alice has been hired to run will open under two conditions, according to Drew Campbell, the man who offered her the position. The first is that the man whose money is funding the gallery must remain anonymous; the second is that his young protegee must have a three week solo show of his photographs to open the gallery.  Alice is somewhat mystified by these conditions, but she agrees.  When she sees the photographer’s work she’s upset by his evident lack of talent, but she decides to make the best of it–after all, it’s only for three weeks, then she’s free to choose the art for the gallery.

But when the show opens, it’s picketed by the Reverend George Hardy of the Redemption of Christ Church because he says it’s showing pornographic photos of underage girls.  There’s nothing to be done, according to Alice’s call to the New York City’s 311, non-emergency, line; the picketers are entitled to express their First Amendment rights.

And two days later Alice gets a phone call from Drew, saying there are some problems and he has to see her the next morning at the gallery.  When she arrives and lets herself in, she trips over his corpse.

Alafair Burke does an excellent job of combining Long Gone’s various story lines. In addition to Alice’s problems, there’s the F.B.I. detective who has been following, against orders, the man he holds responsible for his sister’s death.  There’s also the teenage girl who’s gone missing from her New Jersey home.  When all three story lines converge, the entire picture becomes clear.  The sense of scene is excellent, whether the author is describing the Highline Gallery, named for the newly constructed High Line Park on the lower west side of New York City, or a suburban New Jersey high school filled with jocks and cheerleaders.

Alice Humphrey is a very appealing heroine. She’s led a protected, if not especially happy, life, cosseted by her family’s position and money.  She knows that her father’s money paid for her previous job, and now she’s very determined to make it on her own.  No more favors, thank you.

She been having an on-again, off-again romance for some time; at the moment it’s on, but there’s a very substantial stumbling block in the relationship just waiting for someone to trip over it.  Her relationship with her brother has its own difficulties.  He’s happy to talk against their parents, but he lives in a condo his father pays for and hasn’t had a real job for years.  And Alice’s fear of her brother’s drug use has added an additional emotional toll to every conversation they have.

Alafair Burke is also the author of two series; Long Gone is her first stand-alone. You can read more about her at her web site.