Willeford is so cunning in how he tells his tale of modern art and the arcane world of reclusive eccentric painters that he completely took me in. He fooled this gullible reader. While reading the lengthy lecture Figueras gives his girlfriend Berenice about the origins of Nihilistic Surrealism I began taking notes on all the styles and painters mentioned. Utterly foreign to me were the names of Willi Büttner and his Scatölögieschul, Belgian brothers Hans & Hal Grimm nor had I ever heard of Nihilistic Surrealism. I dutifully headed to that miracle we know as Google to scour the internet for signs of life among these names and terms. Results? 100% nothing. Turns out all of them sprang from the imagination of the writer. Willeford was so convincing in his presentation of these artists and their various schools of painting I believed they actually existed. The lecture Figueras gives -- peppered with references to well known artists like Miró, Picasso, De Chirico and Man Ray -- is so eruditely told I just accepted all of it as truthful. Part of the con begins before the reader even starts the book. Willeford dedicates the book to Jacques Debierue and gives his birth and death dates followed by a Latin memorial phrase. Of course Debierue is as fictional as the entire novel, but for a brief moment I was completely taken in thinking all of the painters and artists mentioned were real.
|US 1st edition (Crown, 1971)|
But there is a one huge surprise in store for Figueras when he finally manages to penetrate the hallowed studio housing Debierue's collection of art. And his discovery of Debierue's secret leads him into more crime and savage violence. The Burnt Orange Heresy makes for some exciting reading both as an excellent example of noir in the art world and a insightful satire of the creation and selling of fine art as the ultimate con game.
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Reading Challenge update: Silver Age Bingo card, space S1 - "Book with a Color in the Title"