Jonathan Santlofer's third Kate McKinnon novel repeats the themes of his first two offerings: violence that erupts in the art world and/or around priceless works of art, murders of artists, curators, art collectors, and the occasional "collateral victim."
Kate is a former Queens cop who married "up," quit her day job, and became a society matron, a philanthropist, host of a TV show on PBS, and now she is writing a book. In her last outing her husband is brutally murdered, and she insists she work as a consultant on the case. She brings to her colleagues a doctorate in Art History, thus giving the police (and readers) short courses on great artists and their work. To solve this crime, a working knowledge of the symbolism behind each painting and an understanding of the artist who created it are helpful. In THE KILLING ART, "original artwork by the author is included." This is an interesting device that challenges readers to help discover the clues and make the connections.
Kate is a mover and shaker who uses her influence and money to help children who have potential that would die if not for the special opportunity she affords them. "Talk about timing. Just after her third miscarriage, tangled in the red tape of adoption, and here they were --- dozens of kids who needed her help. Kate had seen what the program could do --- offering a handful of kids special attention, less crowded classrooms, encouragement, and preparation for college, if they wanted to go."
The plot centers on a killer who vandalizes and slashes great works of art as his signature. His plans go wrong in his second outing and he is caught; the owner of that artwork is his first kill. He enjoys it --- the power, the feeling of the knife entering the man --- and decides to add killing to his M.O. He escalates into a sociopath/psychopath committing increasingly ghoulish murders.
In THE KILLING ART Kate once again inserts herself into the investigation of the series of diabolical killings that are connected to the slashed paintings. The spouse of one of her dear friends is murdered when he catches the killer in the act of destroying a painting that hangs in his home. Kate is determined not to let his or the deaths of the other victims go unsolved. The perp's M.O. makes for an interesting twist. S/he sends a warning, via a painting that incorporates the last victim's ruined canvas, and hints at who the next target is. Since Kate is writing a book about the New York School of artists and their inner circle known as the "irascibles," she definitely is an asset to what appears to be a vendetta against their work.
"To the artists of the New York School painting was their life, their soul, their raison d'etre. For them the 1930s and '40s were defined by cold-water flats, hard work, heavy drinking; painters hanging out in bars and coffee shops, arguing about the latest trends and ideas --- creation over completion, painting as an event --- but most of all, it was a time of intense friendship and camaraderie."
At least that is how the legends and myths about this group offer up their story. The in-crowd included such luminaries as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Lee Krasner.
Kate was and is a very good cop. Her art expertise is stellar and her eye is as sharp as her gut instincts when it comes to solving crimes. She works with the NYPD and the FBI in their efforts to catch a killer. She always has been a strikingly beautiful woman who takes her looks for granted and really never uses them to get what she wants. She maintains her cool and keeps a certain amount of distance between herself and the ugly side of life she is forced to deal with. She, like the painters, is reinventing herself as she moves through the grief that is always with her. She bought a loft, had one of her protégés move in with a baby, and has created a small family.
In the meantime, each owner of each painting that is destroyed gets a small painting in an envelope that represents elements of the New York School painters' work. Kate is the one who deduces that these are the killer's calling card, and he is taunting everyone by hinting at which will be his next slashed painting and who will be the dead owner. The creepiest threads in the novel are the glimpses readers get into the mind of the murderer. Those interior monologues are chilling, yet readers will find themselves spellbound as the monster reveals bit by bit who he is and why he kills.
Jonathan Santlofer has that "special something" that allows him to wander into dark places and report what he finds, yet he always has control of the plot. The regulars are becoming more and more believable as each book brings them back. This series could turn into a really hot item as readers become more familiar with this writer.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 22, 2011