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Picks and Pans Review: The Death Artist

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By Jonathan Santlofer

Page-turner of the week

Santlofer, a successful painter, plunged into the writing of this blood-splashed suspense tale as therapy after a gallery fire destroyed five years’ worth of his work. The New York art scene he describes in his debut novel is a cold, novelty-hungry world that cherishes finely crafted things over imperfect people—a point driven home when the latter begin to die in elaborately staged reproductions of scenes from famous paintings. Hovering between mucky crime and high aesthetics is Kate McKinnon, a former cop who turned in her badge more than 10 years ago after a runaway she was tracking ended up dead. Now an art historian and designer-clad socialite, Kate is tugged back into the past when the chief of police taps her to help solve these gruesome art-world murders.

Conveniently, Kate’s hunches always pay off as the clock ticks toward the climactic Venice Biennale art show and an encounter with the killer who calls himself “the death artist.” The spoiled, catty art lovers are deliciously drawn and intriguingly loathsome, while the settings—from meat-packing-district artists’ studios to the gilded domes of Venice—are vivid. Santlofer’s insight into the passion at the heart of great art brings this evocative thriller to richly impastoed life. (Morrow, $24.95)

Bottom Line: Fine portrait