Spent Matches is a crime novel in which no corpse appears until nearly the end, but you'll learn more technical data about fires and arson than you would ever dream of knowing, and get a crash course in Pre-Raphaelite painting…As presented by author Shelly Reuben, it's pure delight.
The main reason for joy is laconic Wylie Nolan, like the author a free-lance fire investigator, who tries to discover who burned five paintings right out of their frames at the Ziegfield Museum; otherwise, his insurance company employer will have to pay the blustering artist, Sarkin Zahedi, $5 million. The supporting players are richly delineated, including Nolan's next-door neighbor, lawyer Miranda Yee, fire expert Eddie No-name and Camden (Camelot) Kimcanon, a quirky young man who dresses like a 19th century poet and quotes from "The Idylls of the King" in conversation…
Spent Matches might be the most entertaining mystery you'll read all year.
With the foreknowledge that Shelly Reuben is both a successful author and a professional arson investigator, the title (
Spent Matches ) gave me a clue as to the plot of the book. Arson is indeed the subject and the setting in the familiar environs of Manhattan, and the Bronx gives this…mystery added interest to local readers.
After about ten pages…I couldn't put the book down. The cleverly interwoven sub-plots were a learning experience and the cast of characters soon became friends. When the last chapter was finished, I wanted more and that's the kind of feeling one should always have after reading a good book…
This book will touch your soul and cause you to think; two admirable results of any worthwhile tome.
Reuben has discovered a new mystery form writing about fire-related crime…Reuben's latest,
Spent Matches , teams lawyer Max Bramble and fire prober Wylie Nolan in a tale about five large paintings that go "poof" incinerated while on display in New York's prestigious Zigfield Museum. It is a classic "locked-room" mystery with a brilliant unraveling.
The novel focuses on aspiring painter Camden Kincannon, a young museum assistant who drifts along in a fantasy world fashioned around Camelot. Georgianna Weeks, a guest curator on Pre-Raphaelite art, tries to rescue him from delusion and a rapacious alcoholic mother. Incendiary, and how.
Reuben, who runs a fire investigation firm in New York City, writes with considerable technical authority in this inventive story of arson. She also fuels her tale with lively characters, such as 80-year-old Wegman Zigfield, who has used his fortune to convert a church into an art museum, dubbed Zigfield's folly, and to fill it with 19th-century paintings. He has just fired his incompetent son for staging a stunningly mediocre show of contemporary art by an artist whose career has clearly burned outbut not as fast as his canvases. In the middle of the night, the five of them go up in flames, leaving premier fire expert Wylie Nolan (seen previously in Origin and Cause) with five frames and five piles of ashes. Even more puzzling, the flames activated neither smoke detectors nor heat sensors; and, according to the crack security system, no one entered the gallery at all that evening. While the museum is facing its darkest hour, most of the staff is on edge, largely because of Georgiana Weeks, the beautiful visiting curator who could have inspired one of the Pre-Raphaelites whose show she is organizing. Reuben wisely balances the acerbic Nolan's techno-speak with subplots involving the lives and loves of the staff, some of whom harbor ambitions or grudges that appear to be, well, flammable. A nice foil for all the art-world flamboyance, the low-key Nolan cuts cleanly through lies and puffery to find the truth. (July)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Compared to a "long and lean" gunslinger, private arson investigator Wylie Nolan acts instead like a frustrated comedian. He and lawyer Max Bramble, who usually misses the point of Wylie's lame jokes, attempt to discover how an arsonist could successfully incinerate five paintings in a locked museum gallery with state-of-the-art security. Suspects include the 80-year-old gallery owner, his nebbish son, and a disturbed, poetry-spouting volunteer, among others. Clean, clipped prose from the author of Origin and Cause (Scribner, 1994); for larger collections.
Insurance investigator Wylie Nolan is hired to solve a locked-door mystery at the Zigfield Art Museum; alas the locked door in question conceals, not a body, but five empty picture frames, their erstwhile contents reduced to five small heaps of smoking rubble. As the investigation progresses, mysterious fires continue to plague the museum's staff, and Wylie has his hands full sussing them out. Meanwhile, the curators struggle gamely to mount a major exhibition of pre-Raphaelite art amidst finger-pointing and political maneuvering in the fires' wake. Reuben, herself an arson investigator, clearly enjoyed writing this book, which has more in common with lighthearted English cozies than blood-and-guts psycho thrillers, and her enthusiasm is infectious. A large and colorful cast of characters and lively subplots will keep crime-fiction fans entertained while they learn a smattering of art history, pick up a bit of arson lore, and have some politically incorrect laughs.
Three alarming blazes for attorney Max Bramble and fire investigator Wylie Nolan (Origin and Cause, 1994). The first and most mysterious has destroyed five Sarkin Zahedi canvases the Zigfield Museum has hung in its Parlor Gallery; though nothing else in the gallery burned, and the heat alarm never went off, somebody got into the locked room and incinerated the paintings in their frames. The second, much less interesting, case involves an arsonist who keeps starting fires in the ladies' room used by Wylie's neighbor, lawyer Miranda Yeean arsonist who's trying to frame Miranda by using her Parliaments as tinder. Just as it seems that imperturbable Wylie's wrapped everything upthe ladies' room firebug, indeed, in quite indecent hasteCamden Kimcannon, a part-time volunteer in the Zigfield who seems to think he's a reincarnated pre-Raphaelite himself, is arrested for torching the house occupied by the despicable mother he just moved out on, even though his friend Georgiana Weeks, guest curator for the Zigfield's pre-Raphaelite show, is convinced his confession is bogus. If it sounds as if all three of these bonfires are unrelated, well, you may just have your own future in fire investigation.
The oh-my-goodness writing, the wide-eyed characters, the jerry-built plot, the ingenious incendiary devicesthey're all equally mechanical.