Murder in the Abstract takes place in the museum and gallery worlds of San Francisco and Santa Fe—locations can be a good enough reason to read a book. Susan C. Shea worked in fundraising for education and arts organizations before turning her talents to writing fiction so she gets the role of development director for a museum just right. There is some product name-dropping at the start, to create bona fides for a wealthy milieu, I suppose. That is such a tired tactic that it stands out. But events and motives quickly overtake the ads and a suicide at an art museum exhibit opening moves front and center.
The suicide is really a homicide—an artist who pitched himself, or was pushed, from the fifth floor window of the museum’s development director. She is flabbergasted and freaked out—apparently the artist had a letter, signed by her and on museum stationery, inviting him to meet her in her office. OK, she didn’t send it but Dani O’Rourke has history with the splattered artist. Their brief relationship ended in a very public disagreement and now she is a suspect. She gives a first-person account of events–the voice is competently managed. And the cast is studded with artists, museum directors, collectors, gallery owners and cute cops. Hmmm.
Dani’s ex (husband, not the now-abstract boyfriend) is a charming and exceptionally wealthy playboy who can’t resist coming to her rescue, invited or not. Her best friend is an artist who is somehow endangered by events and nearly ends up dead herself. A development assistant is too flirtatious and invites suspicion. Dani’s boss, the museum director, owns a very risky secret. A collusion to hoard and market a new kind of forgery shadows events from the background as Dani takes a break from tense doings in San Francisco and steps into a lethal mix of treacherous media in charming Santa Fe. Museums are not sanctuaries in this mystery and galleries are perilous repositories of experimental paintings and unsentimental perps.
Murder in the Abstract is really a lot of fun. People do die—not the amusing parts—but the heroine’s voice is a kind of sophisticated Bridget Jones Diary persona and the tension is pretty low-key. The art world is ripe for cruising and the insider knowledge about nefarious collecting practices adds to the appeal. The book was a fast, light read and a reprieve from the longer daily volumes that inevitably cost me sleep. I need to look for a few more of those to vary this marathon. I’d read another book by Susan Shea, if she sticks to the volatile intersection of greed and art with all the trappings to lure an armchair voyeur.
Murder in the Abstract Susan C. Shea | Avalon Books 2010