The War Of Artby Philip Blackpeat
I turned to the second photograph. It was Guernica again. It was vandalized again, but this time by someone who had charitably done his handiwork on the photo instead of the picture itself. Now a speech cloud with a tail, like those used in comics, emanated from the pointed tongue of the horse that dominates the work's central panel. It spanned most of the painting in length, this time covering the mother's face and sparing the child's. It contained seven words, written calligraphically in red:
- Equestrians know.
I felt as if the espresso had exploded in my stomach, sending reconstituted coffee beans in all directions, like a napalm bomb...
Murder. This is what little Marcel was telling me, not so subtly.
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This is a serious, (black) comic literary work with mystery elements ¿ in reach, craft, and spirit, it reminds me of early Thomas Pynchon, specifically THE CRYING OF LOT 49. THE WAR OF ART is about the ongoing, organized devolution of culture since the 1930s - that alone elevates it from the realm of standard detective, thriller, and legal fiction. Mr. Blackpeat¿s wicked mystery describes the lineage and depth of our current malaise. Rich language further elevates the work. The prose here isn¿t just good it¿s exquisite. The author does a wonderful job of using the ¿null space¿ provided by the first person point of view. A reader senses who the protagonist is as much by what is left out as by what is included, by what goes unsaid, but is constantly present: Attorney Melanchton has no life outside his work. He has no physical identity he is never described, never compares himself to others. He has no romantic or sexual associations, no friends to confide in. When given a problem he attacks it with a sublimating compulsive energy. Despite his erudition and logic (or because of it), he is the perfect, unknowing foil. Great prose. Big ideas. Fascinating intertwining of mystery and history. An intriguingly flawed and unique main character. First novels this good are not to be missed.
This is no ho hum book it is a piece of work. The War of Art is an erudite mystery novel written by a Washington, DC lawyer, first person through a narrator who is ¿ almost convincingly ¿ a Washington, DC lawyer. Presented as pure entertainment, it is refreshing for anyone who is, or aspires to be, an intellectual, in that it covers ground in the world of 20th Century European art and literature, as well as Classical Greek thought, at a dizzying pace. The premise is not simple: the narrator (identified only as Mr. Melanchthon, which is Greek for Blackpeat, the author¿s pseudonym) is contacted by a wealthy client who wants to know why (¿not who¿) someone vandalized his original Picasso. The client did not even know this had occurred before being contacted by a mysterious informer, who then diverts a series of bewildering communications to Melanchthon himself. And the chase is on. Blackpeat is a reader¿s writer. Showing great respect for his reader, he presumes that you know a lot or, at least, that you are a ¿quick copy¿ who can learn at the same rate you read. At times, I couldn¿t keep up with him although I am a slow reader and fast thinker, so expect a workout. The book is a page-turner, though you will sometimes have to turn the pages backward rather than forward, perhaps to check a fact, to recall an impression that must now be revised, or just to figure things out by identifying puzzle pieces in the dense yet agile story line. The character Pursewarden in Lawrence Durrell¿s Alexandria Quartet said that the artist¿s job was to ¿catch every scrap of wind,¿ and Blackpeat catches, scrambles and tosses these scraps for 120 pages before they begin to settle so that you can see the whole picture. But don¿t be discouraged. I did find myself getting irritated at times by plot twists that appeared more bizarre than artistic. I also struggled with some of the characters: the women are all beautiful and desirable the men are sinister, inscrutable, or intensely involved in their own incomprehensible subterfuge and I couldn¿t always tell whether the narrator was an aristocrat of the spirit or an envious oaf. But the reward at the end was great. No, make that: the reward at the end was enormous! A word about the characters: No character escapes risk no character can ever relax. If one seems momentarily serene, it is only for the time it takes to wait for the light to change. The humor in the book (lots!) is based on that Washington, DC lawyer stuff: self-deprecating, type-identifying, emotionally correct or emotionally rectifying, subtly political in tone and stance, very visual, polished and sexy. I am sure there was much I ¿didn¿t get,¿ and that others who are more in the know will enjoy even more belly laughs. You also may want to do your homework as you read this book. One of the first names I googled was ¿Phillip Melanchthon,¿ who, it turns out, was a friend and contemporary of Martin Luther in the first half of the 16th Century in Germany. He taught Greek at the University of Wittenberg. Born Phillip Schwarzerdt (German for ¿ you guessed it ¿ ¿black earth¿), his name was changed at the age of 12 by a great uncle, who announced: ¿Your name is Schwarzerdt, you are a Greek, and so your new name shall be Greek. Thus I will call you Melanchthon, which means black earth.¿ I quoted this because there are actually circumstances in the book that appear equally disjointed, abrupt, and disorienting, but they, like the whimsical renaming of a young boy, become elements in the creation of a whole that is completely and organically integrated. One thing more about the Renaissance scholar who died in 1560: he was described as ¿kind, moral, hospitable, yet timid and frequently ill,¿ ultimately, ¿a peace-minded man.¿ Permutations of these adjectives form many composites you will encounter in this book. You won¿t be able to guess the ending unless you¿re a lot smarter than I am, but you can guess m