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Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm
Cover Artist: Photos by Panaramic Images / Getty Images
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312658618
Date: 27 March 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /

Stef Markov is an eccentric artist living in Silver Bay, Oregon. Believing that each painting is an unfinished part of herself, she refuses to allow her fourth husband, Dale Oliver, to sell them. Stef suffers a fatal fall and everyone, including her daughter Van, her mother Marnie, and former NYPD detective Tony Mauricio, believes Dale murdered her, especially when he produces a suspicious contract that Stef signed, allowing him to sell her paintings. Van, Marnie, and Tony wrestle tenaciously with their consciences, each one wanting Dale dead but not having enough proof that he actually murdered Stef. As they continue investigating Dale, they increasingly uncover more of his evil scheming and grow more intent on vengeance.

Kate Wilhelm's Death of an Artist is a psychological thriller that will make readers ask: "Would I kill the person who murdered my loved one?" The novel, a portrait itself, explores the insecurities and fears of its main characters, each one psychologically scarred from past events. Three generations of women live in a type of self-imposed isolation along the beautiful, but treacherous, Oregon coastline; family is extremely important to them because all they have is each other. It is no wonder they seek vengeance when one of their members is murdered. Marnie has been a widow for twenty-five years; Stef has had four husbands and a multitude of lovers; and Van was betrayed by a philandering college professor who impregnated her. Fitting nicely into this land of broken toys is Tony who was crippled during a shootout that left a teenage boy dead; he has always felt responsible for his demise.

Death of an Artist is tame enough to be considered a cozy; however, though heart-warming and provocative at times, it lacks the trademark humor of a cozy. Also, there is not enough violence to declare it a true crime drama. Neither is it in the vein of an Agatha Christie whodunit. We know who the murderer is; however, as many of the characters are constantly lamenting, there just isn't enough evidence to prove Dale actually murdered Stef. Furthermore, I was gravely disappointed for the novel's lack of surprise twists and/or shocking denouement. Death of an Artist reminded me of romantic suspense because there is some romance occurring between Tony and Van despite their twenty-year age difference.

Through the character of Dale Oliver, the author makes the reader realize how highly competitive and cutthroat the art world can be. Dale is part owner of the For Arts Sake Gallery in Portland, Oregon. He's been seducing budding artists away from the gallery and taking financial advantage of them. Because of Dale's scheming, Marnie and Van are forced to have Stef's lifetime collection of paintings cataloged, appraised and insured. On a positive note, the reader learns about the different mediums used in paintings such as charcoal, acrylics, and oils. Furthermore, readers will have a greater appreciation of the agony that an artist must endure before selling one of their creations. After reading about Stef's ardent determination not to sell her work, I have concluded that a great painting is like a baby that is an extension of oneself. The painting is nearly impossible to part with and it is never entirely completed. Likewise, we as humans are constantly growing, never completely maturing. Even after death, we continue to influence and change the world around us.

Fans of psychological thrillers and/or romantic suspense will want to read Death of an Artist. Like life in a small town, this novel is too slow-paced for fans of bloody, violent noir. Fans of shocking whodunits may also want to look elsewhere. However, artists and fans of mysteries involving precious artwork may want to read it. Furthermore, if stolen paintings and/or forgeries are your cup of tea, then I highly recommend the following mysteries: Carson Morton's Stealing Mona Lisa and S.J. Rozan's Ghost Hero.

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