NO TRACE by Barry Maitland

no traceAnother fascinating mystery by Australian writer Barry Maitland.  This is the eighth in the series featuring DCI Brock and DS Kathy Kolla as they battle crime and criminals in modern day London.

As with the others in the series, this book has a central theme, and it is art, modern vs. traditional,  and the question of just what makes something art.

Brock and Kolla are working on two cases of kidnapping of preschool girls when they get a call about a third.   This is the young daughter, 5 years old, of a famous artist.  He is a widower raising her alone, against the wishes of his in-laws who do not like him.  After his wife committed suicide by jumping off a bridge, he created a spectacular series of paintings based on his emotions of the event.   When his daughter goes missing, he begins to create another series of banners, one for each day she is missing.  Sheesh.  Talk about self-involved.  No wonder the in-laws don’t like him.

He lives on a square which houses several other artists, and an upscale art gallery which offers free room and board to struggling, promising artists.  It features strange artwork such as the sculptures of dead bodies and dead body parts by one artist, the very large scale models of naked cherubs, disturbingly lifelike, of another.   The one traditional old-school artist living and working on the square has great disdain for the new stuff.  He believes that

the young artists in the square didn’t have an original thought between them, that everything was a reference to something else.

Also living on the square is Batty Betty.  Gently mad,  Betty drifts in and out of lucidity, claiming to know secrets, and talks about a monster.

Then Betty is found hanged in the basement of a construction project on the square, another artist is found hanged, and the father of the missing child is found with his throat slashed.

There is a great deal of reference to 18th century painter Henry Fuseli.  He was a prolific artist, producing some 200 paintings and over 800 other designs and etchings.  Here are two of his works mentioned in the book.  The first, The Nightmare,  is what the artist  in the book based his popular series on.  The second, Thor battering the Midgard Serpent, was Fuseli’s diploma work for the Royal Academy, accepted 1790.

 

220px-John_Henry_Fuseli_-_The_Nightmare 220px-Johann_Heinrich_Füssli_011

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