The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman

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The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The perfect take-your-mind-of-it read as art deal Ethan Muller searches for an artist and uncovers a legacy of shame which comes uncomfortably close to home. It's not great literature but it is a great read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: December 2008
Publisher: Sphere
ISBN: 978-0751540284

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Do you know that moment when you need a book that will draw you in and take your mind off the fact that you're feeling pretty dreadful? You want something thought-provoking, with a plot which could go anywhere – and probably not in the direction you expect – and characters you can believe in and care about. Throw in a location and time that's interesting and you have the perfect take-your-mind-off-it read.

This weekend I needed it and I found it.

Ethan Muller is an art dealer. You sense an enthusiasm for the job if not an obsession. His elder brothers work for his father but Ethan doesn't get on with him and their only connection is through a family friend and employee. It's this man, Tony Wexler, who contacts Ethan to tell him that there's some art work in a New York slum which might interest him. Initially he's reluctant to take it any further, but Tony has been a good friend to him in the past and he does have an 'eye'. What he finds is a huge collection of disturbing, interlocking drawings which are obviously the work of a genius and once he displays them he sees their price rocket. It confirms his place in the art world.

It also brings him to the attention of an ex-policeman unable to come to terms with the fact that the murders of five boys some four decades before were never solved. No one was brought to justice. In the post 9/11 world of New York it's difficult to get the authorities interested in the deaths. What are five deaths which happened more than forty years ago when set against the Twin Towers?

The art world is more interested when it seems that the artist might have had a sinister past, might, in fact have been a paedophile and a murderer. People are not repulsed by the thought but morbidly interested. Ethan sets out to find the artist and in doing so uncovers some shameful secrets which come horrifyingly close to home and which leave him fearing for his own life.

I couldn't put this book down – and it wasn't just the fact that I was lying in bed with nothing else to do. The main thrust of the story is set in the first decade of this century, but the beginnings reach back into the eighteen-forties and it's the old story which influenced what happened in the twentieth century. Telling a tale which jumps back and forth through the centuries is no easy task, but Kellerman does it in style, never disrupting the flow, just adding layer upon layer.

He has the talent of being able to bring a character off the page and fully-formed in remarkably few words. Even the bit-part characters stay in your mind. Add to this the fact that the writing is accomplished and has wit and you'll see why I enjoyed it so much. It's not great literature: it probably won't stand the test of time – but there are occasions when that's not what you're looking for.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

The publishers liken this book to The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld and there are similarities – mainly in period, setting and book cover – and there's certainly no reason not to go on to read that book although you will find that it has more depth. You might also enjoy The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian.

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Buy The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman at

Booklists.jpg The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman is in the Richard and Judy Shortlist 2009.


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