Tuesday, December 01, 2015

The Burnt Orange Heresy by Charles Willeford

(hb; 1971)

From the inside flap:

"When Jacques Debierue, the world's most renown painter, secretly emigrates from the French Riviera to the Florida Gold Coast under the name of Eugene V. Debs, it inspires one of the most ingenious dramas and provokes the most intriguing crime of passion ever conceived in the world of art.

"One of the truly influential artists of all time, Debierue has kept his work from the public, allowing few critics ever to set eyes on his paintings. Why? What has made him single-mindedly shun recognition and refuse to open his collection and share the magnificence of his creative endeavor?

"This is the mystery that James Figueras tries to solve. Figueras is an art critic -- a rhetorical magician in the domain of aesthetics, a manipulator of taste, and an arbiter of judgment. Into his exemplary life arrives the ultimate professional opportunity: a chance to interview the subject of his own lifetime research, the mysterious painter Jacques Debierue. Joseph Cassidy, wealthy, powerful lawyer and art collector, has arranged the meeting, and in true Faustian fashion, Figueras is forced to tarnish his pristine critical soul in exchange -- to commit a crime. . ."


Burnt is a fun (in a could-get-sleazy, fast-talking way), humorous and ultimately good-hearted story, told from the point of view of James Figueras, whose belief that the ends justify the means dictates his actions and (by extension) their consequences. The same character-quirkish feel that so often colors Willeford's other neo-pulp works is evident here, as well as his deft use of character-based nuance -- even when events turn dark and (briefly) nasty.

This is an excellent read, worth owning.

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