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Thursday, 26 March 2020

‘Art of Death’ by Laurence Anholt


Published by Little Brown,
6 February 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-47212999-4 (PB)

The book opens in Somerset at the Meat Hook Gallery, which is premiering a new exhibition by Kristal Havfruen, an artist whose early career could best be summed up by the word ‘infamous.’ Kristal is a Narcissist and, ever since she was a student at Falmouth School of Art, over twenty years previously, she has made herself the centre of her art. Kristal is featured in every aspect of this exhibition of ‘KRISTAL HAVFRUEN – A LIFE’, always dressed in the short, white lace dress and red Dr Marten boots that had been her trademark ever since she was a teenage art student. The exhibition is showing film of her student work ‘Preconception’ in which she has sex with her boyfriend, and, nine months later, film of her giving birth. Kristal declared that her unfortunate son should be called Art and that everything he was or did was art and her creation. Overwhelmed all his life by his mother’s monstrous ego, it is not surprising that Art Havfruen is a volatile young man, addicted to cocaine mixed with a low dose of ketamine.

Kristal’s career has been on the wane for many years, and critics have described her work as shallow and derivative, but this exhibition is well attended. Amongst the guests are Marlene Moss, Kristal’s old teacher at art college; Callum Oak, Kristal’s one-time boyfriend and now her husband, a talented artist in his own right, although his talent has been overshadowed by Kristal’s flamboyant demands for attention; Oliver Sweetman who had once been a rival for Kristal’s favours but, after an accident changed his personality has become Kristal’s assistant and photographer. Also present is Art Havfruen, now a successful advertising executive but still on display as one of his mother’s works of art. Although her image is visible everywhere, Kristal herself is not on display until the guests reach the final gallery where there is a large, sealed tank. On the tank rests a pair of red Dr. Marten boots and inside it floats a model of Kristen. The spectators find it somewhat disturbing that, unlike any other of Kristal’s depictions of herself, the model is precisely life-size and shows all the imperfections of a woman of forty-three. Suddenly Kristal’s husband realises that it is not a model in the tank of formaldehyde, but Kristal herself.

Detective Inspector Shanti Joyce is the officer in charge of the investigation into the murder of Kristal Havfruen. Shanti has just moved to the West Country police force from London. She had been a high-flying detective until inattention to record keeping, due to her preoccupation with a vicious divorce, had caused her to make an error which resulted in a major criminal walking away from court free. Now Shanti is trying to rebuild her career while caring, with the help of her mother, for her young son, Paul. She is fortunate that one of her new colleagues is on her side, and it is Sergeant Bennett who suggests she might benefit from help from her predecessor, D.I. Vince Caine, who has been on long-term sick-leave.

Shanti has heard that Caine is eccentric and many of loud-mouthed, hard-drinking cops call him Veggie Cop but Bennett tells her that Caine is the best detective he has ever known. Shanti tracks Caine down to his remote cabin in Lyme Regis and, although at first she is uncertain about the man known as the Mindful Detective, she soon realises that he has people skills and insight that coalesces well with her more conventional approach. The most obvious suspects are the victim’s husband, Callum Oak, her assistant, Oliver Sweetman, or her son, Art, all of whom have good reason to wish her harm. Kristal was drugged with ketamine, which implicates Art, but Shanti cannot find enough evidence to charge any of them. She can only hope that Caine will help her discover and prove the truth before her career suffers even greater damage.

One of the joys of reviewing is that sometimes you discover a book that you love and might not otherwise have read and in Art of Death I felt that I’d struck gold. The characters are fully rounded and beautifully described and both Shanti and Caine are appealing protagonists. I especially admired the skilful parallels between Kristal and Shanti, they are two ambitious women, but Kristal used and abused her child, while Shanti would do anything within her power to keep her son unharmed. The plot is cleverly crafted and compelling, and the art-world background drawn with biting wit and candour. Art of Death is the first in the Mindful Detective series and I am already looking forward to the next one. As I read this book in one day, I can truthfully describe it as a page-turner, and one that I wholeheartedly recommend.
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Reviewer: Carol Westron

Laurence Anholt was born in 1959 into an Anglo Dutch family with Persian roots, Anholt spent his early years in Holland where he developed a lasting love of Art. He went on to study Painting for 8 years, culminating in a Masters Degree from the Royal Academy of Art in London. In a career spanning three decades, Laurence Anholt has produced over 200 books, which are published in more than 30 languages. His titles span every age and genre from baby board books to adult crime, winning numerous awards, including the Historical Association Young Quills Award and the prestigious Nestlé Smarties Gold Award on two occasions. In July 2019, Anholt's first venture into adult crime fiction, Art Of Death was published by Constable Little Brown. This is the first in the Mindful Detective series, which has been described as 'Funny, philosophical and leftfield' and 'Broadchurch meets Fargo'. A startlingly original mystery series featuring a Buddhist detective, Vince Caine, who often feels too much for his own good!
Catherine and Laurence live and work in a house on a hill with studios and wildflower meadows, overlooking the sea in Devon, southwest England.https://www.anholt.co.uk


 
Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

 To read a review of Carol latest book Strangers and Angels click on the title.

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