Saturday, August 1, 2020

Review: An Exquisite Corpse by Helen A. Harrison

Title: An Exquisite Corpse
Author: Helen A. Harrison
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult fiction (mystery)
Pages: 310
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Location (my 2020 Google Reading map)USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): When the Cuban painter Wifredo Lam turns up dead in his Greenwich Village studio, the investigation takes Detective Sergeant John J. O'Connell and his team from Chinatown's underworld to Spanish Harlem's gangland in search of a killer who left a grotesque calling card. Suspicion soon falls on the tight-knit circle of Surrealist refugees who fled Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. Did one of their bizarre parlor games turn deadly? Set in the sexually liberated New York art worid of the 1940s, populated by European artists in exile and the young Americans itching to take over the avant-garde, Harrison's tale is an amalgam of truth and invention. That turbulent era's creative ferment is the backdrop for a desperate crime and its lethal consequences.

Review: I had never heard of this author or this book, but my daughter and I were in a bookstore and she said, "Look! A book by a Helen and it's a mystery. You should read it." So I did. And I was a bit underwhelmed.

I like the concept of the book: all the famous surrealist artists of the early to id-1900s in New York together. They socialize, have affairs, influence one another, and create exquisite corpses at parties. What's an exquisite corpse? It's that game you played as a child where one person draws a head, folds the paper over and the next person draws the body and folds the paper over, and a third person draws the legs. Apparently, they really did this, but of course, theirs are much more interesting than the ones we used to produce. Here's the one featured in the book by characters (it's a real artwork):

While the premise is interesting, the book just didn't capture my attention all that much. It felt a bit name-droppy for me and perhaps would have been more real if all the famous artists weren't involved.

Challenges for which this counts: 

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