😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂
When painter and PI Chris Honeysett is invited to take part in an exhibition at the Bath Arts Academy, where he was once briefly a tutor, it seems like it should be a fairly straightforward event. As soon as he gets there, though, Chris is persuaded against his better judgement to take on a teaching role on a temporary basis, and to help organise the exhibition. But it’s not long before all kinds of strange things are happening – mysterious symbols appearing on walls and carved into trees, glimpses of a wild looking man running naked through the woods, someone sneaking in at night to add to the exhibitors’ paintings and, worse, making them better! And it’s not long until one of the exhibitors is found murdered in circumstances that leave Chris as a prime suspect. It’s up to him to find the true culprit before any more murders are committed…
The story is told by Chris in the first person, past tense, and he’s a great character, engaging and full of humour. He’s not the most competent PI in the world, since it’s something he does only to augment the little money he earns from his paintings, and to be honest there isn’t a great deal of detection in the book. But he is observant – his painter’s eye allows him to spot things that others might miss, and he’s a pretty good judge of character. And there are some good characters for him to judge – the artists gathered together for the exhibition make a nicely eccentric bunch. There’s the drunken one with the chip on his shoulder, the rather punky woman who has made a career out of painting clouds, the installation artist who (rather fortunately) doesn’t need to make a living from her art since she has the luxury of having a rich husband, and the man that everyone hates because he suddenly became fashionable a few years back and is now as rich as he is pompous. Add on the various teachers at the academy, a range of students from the highly talented to the merest daubers, and the new owner, who hates all artists with a passion, and it’s understandable that Chris has his work cut out for him.
The story also gives us a glimpse into Chris’ personal life – feisty fellow artist Annis, his girlfriend and housemate, who also happens to be having a relationship with Tim, Chris’ partner in the PI business. Confused? So’s Chris, poor man! But the three of them work well together despite their mixed-up lives.
The tone of the book is fairly light but the storyline is meaty enough to prevent it from falling into ‘cosy’ territory. The setting in the Arts Academy gives it something of the feel of an old-fashioned country house mystery, with a limited number of suspects and possible victims. To be honest though, the murder plot is almost secondary to the enjoyment of Chris’ observations on his life, his fellow artists and, indeed, on the process of producing art. I know nothing about the mechanics of painting, sculpture etc, but I felt strongly that Helton does and, through Chris, he imparts quite a lot of information, but weaving it smoothly into the story rather than dumping it randomly onto the reader. Helton’s writing style is relaxed and easy – it gives that effortless feeling that probably suggests a lot of work went into it. An entertaining read – this is my first introduction to Peter Helton’s books, but I look forward to getting to know both him and Chris Honeysett better.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Severn House.