A BUTTERFLY IN FLAME by Nicholas Kilmer

Fred Taylor is a glorified gopher working for a secretive art collector, and where there are people willing to spend serious money for art, there's serious murder for Fred to solve.  This time Fred is working semi-undercover for Stillton Academy, a quiet little art college in a too-quiet little North Shore town, trying to investigate the disappearance of a teacher and student.  I thought I knew what Kilmer was doing on page 5--and then he turned it inside out, and inside out again, and then into origami, and...  The plot is unbreakable, and Stillton Academy is peopled with a grand variety of eccentrics, from Fred's downstairs neighbor the sculptor to the famous alumnus and the egotistic and talentless emeritus professor.  (The scene with the real estate agent made me laugh out loud--in the subway.)  A delight to read, with a perfectly right surprise ending and, as usual, a coup for Clay's collection.

Kilmer is a coup all in himself.  He works the semi-cozy field--amateur detective, art background--but he writes like the cynical love child of Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Box.  Annie Dillard says that if you're going to be a writer you have to love sentences.  Nicholas Kilmer loves sentences.  His are utterly distinctive: laconic hardboiled style and whiplash dialogue.  If you're a writer or aspiring writer, you want to read this man for his style alone.

And, my, doesn't he know art.  He's also a painter, a teacher, an art dealer; reading a Fred Taylor novel teaches you about art as reading a Lovejoy novel teaches you about antiques.  There are seven Fred Taylor novels so far, and the best news is that the eighth, A PARADISE FOR FOOLS, comes out in September 2011.


Voices 3: RIP Peter Gomes

For forty years, Peter Gomes was the pastor of Memorial Church at Harvard, and one of its leading African-American voices. He was a man unto himself: a conservative wearer of good suits and bow ties, a New Englander through and through, the son of a cranberry-bog worker two generations removed from slavery, a Harvard professor, a Republican (until he broke party to vote for Deval Patrick), a gay man, and a deeply believing member of the Christian community. "I am not a minority of any sort. I am a son of God." For forty years that lovely, rounded bass voice tucked it gently to the Harvard community and the wider world.

I loved not only the man, but that particular voice. Everyone else did too, and I thought Law and his father would.  I used Peter Gomes's verbal rhythms and his distinctive accent while I was thinking of what their voices would sound like.

Read Candace Chellew-Hodge's appreciation of him, then listen to a sermon by the man himself at the bottom of the page. It's a good long sermon. As he said, quoting from William Sloane Coffin, "Sermonettes make Christianettes."