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.

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