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by Jose Carlos Somoza
Abacus, June 2005
480 pages
ISBN: 0349118833

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This is the latest novel from Cuban author Somoza, whose first novel, THE ATHENIAN MURDERS, won the 2003 Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger Award. The novel is set in a futuristic art world, in which real people have become canvases, and they long to be painted by the master, Bruno van Tysch.

A young female model is abducted and murdered, and April Wood and Lothar Bosch, two of the Van Tysch organisation's security team, are assigned to investigate. Van Tysch has a big exhibition approaching in Amsterdam, and it appears as though the killer may well strike again.

THE ART OF MURDER is a distinctly odd novel. Somoza's picture of the art scene is particularly disturbing. He creates a world in which people have become fetishised and objectified, where people are purchased as pictures and used as nothing more than decorative ornaments. They are no longer even referred to as people, making them distinctly marginalised and disposable objects, even if they are worth many millions of pounds.

With a title such as THE ART OF MURDER, one would imagine that this novel would fit squarely into the crime fiction genre. In fact, it is classified as literary fiction, setting off warning bells. Nick Caistor has clearly done a decent job in translating the novel from the Spanish, but it still does not read as though it were an English novel.

The characters also appear hard to understand. It is difficult to get inside the mindset of a person who wants to be painted and to wants to become an object. Of course, even to use the term 'painted' is an over-simplification, since the methods employed by the artists in this novel involve tinting the eyes, the teeth and even the bodily orifices in search of art. It does not make for a pleasant picture.

THE ART OF MURDER may well make pleasant reading for crime fans who also have an artistic bent. However, Somoza often seems more interested in discussing philosophical ideas about humanity, and raising questions such as 'what is art?' rather than giving us a thriller. The actions of his killer and the steps taken by his pursuers seem secondary to musings on 'hyperdramatism' and other important issues. This novel will certainly not be everyone's cup of tea.

Reviewed by Luke Croll, July 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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