The Burnt Orange Heresy: I finally got around to reading this Charles Williford novel because I know there’s a film coming out in the new year. Besides it has sly nods to Beckett, art and art history, and a caper plot, so what’s not to love? I did enjoy Miami Blues though I haven’t seen it in years. There’s a lot going on here: Tom Ripley may think forgeries are better than originals, but James Figueras thinks critics are more important than artists. He’s so smug, ambitious, misogynist and misanthropic that you know he’s going to take the too-good-to-be-true opportunity that comes along to gain access to the reclusive artist who will cement his standing as the critic nonpareil—even if the price is stealing one of his paintings for an avaricious collector.
Maybe I’ve read too many post-modern twists; I started seeing clues dropped to a twist that Figueras ought to have seen coming if he weren’t so blindly focused on his own fame. Alas, no. I can’t help thinking the movie might benefit from that extra layer of caper I imagined (judging from the early reviews, it did not). Nonetheless, there’s some fun sleight-of-hand about art and its value (don’t let that scare you), Florida ambience and a meditation on how far you can go in pursuit of self-glory and still have something left to enjoy it.
The book is out of print at present, but I got an omnibus that also includes Cockfighter and Pick-Up so I’ll get around to them as well.
The Long Drop: When is this going to be a movie? I’m not sure why I didn’t read this Denise Mina novel when it came out. Serial killer fatigue perhaps—or just the fact that I seldom have time to read things right when they come out. You already know Mina is great. This is a dive into Capote territory (as she talks about here), creative non-fiction to deal with gaps between what is known. When it comes to the Manuel case, what’s known is odd enough—including the all-night pub crawl he took with the husband and father of his victims Marion and Vivienne Watt, who had also been accused of the crime.
Mina brings to life that weird encounter, the trial and the times to vivid life. Manuel is no Hannibal Lecter, though he does want to be a writer. For a book that reveals the many facets of toxic masculinity in both the respectable and the disreputable, Mina keeps the presence of women constant. The victims, the witnesses and even more so, the audience, are mostly women—just as the audience of true crime are mostly women. People seem to always be surprised by this, but who else needs more urgently to understand the often poisonous culture we live in but those who are most likely to be its victims? Superb.
The Driver’s Seat: I’ve written about Muriel Spark’s novel before, but I want to say a special word for the audio book read by Dame Judy Dench. You may be accustomed to her imperious persona as queens and M in the Bond films, but this is more from her sit-com persona. Lise is a one-off and Dench perfectly captures her attitude of amazed dudgeon. How could you possibly see anything strange in her completely logical behaviour?! A real treat to hear Spark’s sparkling prose so crisply read. You can listen to a sample here.