Thursday, October 29, 2015

There Hangs the Knife: Review

"All right," she said, "I agree that revenge has always been around and is probably here to stay. What else is fascinating about it?"

A long pause. "I'd say the consequences. They're almost always bad."

There Hangs the Knife (1988) is the second book in a trilogy by Marcia Muller which features art lover and co-owner of an art security firm, Joanna Stark. The short series revolves around her efforts to track down Anthony Parducci, a brilliant art thief who has managed to elude the authorities for years. Parducci is also Joanna's former lover and father of her son. Joanna is determined to catch the master criminal as well as deal him a hefty dose of revenge for the pain he's caused her over the years. 

This time she thinks she has the perfect plan. There have been several recent thefts of Pieter Bruegel paintings in his famous Proverbs Series. Joanna is sure that Parducci is behind the disappearances and commissions a painting that could be passed off as a recently discovered member of the series. There's no way the daring art thief will be able to resist the temptation. She calls on favors from various connections in the London art world and underworld, arranges for a member of New Scotland Yard to be prepared to aid in the capture, and her plans are set.

But when she finds an unidentified corpse in her friend's apartment and discovers her friend has disappeared with the painting, she realizes that her crarefully laid plans have gone murderously awry. The more she tries to untangle the mess, the more she realizes that revenge carries a heavy cost. She better hope it won't cost her life as well. If she stays out of danger long enough to recover the painting and spring the trap on Parducci, will revenge be as sweet as she hopes? And will she have anything of value left afterward? 

"We concluded--or at least I concluded--that revenge entails terrible costs. It diminishes one, Joanna. But I suppose our friendship was one of the costs you were prepared to pay."

Joanna reminds me a bit of Ahab. She's very single-minded in her mission--not to kill a whale, but to take down the man who hurt her and tried to destroy her life with her son. She goes through a period where it just doesn't matter whose friendship she loses and what price she has to pay. She must see Parducci behind bars. This gives the book a much darker flavor than most mysteries I read. Written in the 1980s, it definitely represents a step towards the troubled, introspective detectives that seem to flourish in current crime fiction.

After reading The Cavalier in White (first book of the series) and finding it to be a solid beginning, I had hopes that Muller would build on this foundation to provide an even better outing in book two. Despite the fact that I like the character of Joanna and this is fast-paced novel with plenty of double-dealing and double-crossing with a high-powered confrontation scene at the end, it didn't seem to me that there was much advancement in the story-telling. There is little mystery--it's quite obvious what's happened as soon as the dead man appears and the painting disappears--and the ending is obviously left open-ended so we could have the third book in the trilogy. Joanna shows some growth over the course of the novel, which is promising, and I hope that book three fulfills the promise in storytelling that I can see glimpses of in the first two. ★★ for another solid outing with interesting characters and plenty of action.

This fulfills the "Murder Method in the Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo Card.


fredamans said...

Awesome snippet. I hear a ring of truth to it. Sounds like a real solid story. Great review!

Anonymous said...

Been ages since i read one of hers - thanks Bev, must remedy that!