Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Art of Authentification, by Christopher Welch

"The Art of Authentification," by Christopher Welch., in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January/February 2014.

This is at least the fourth story by Welch in this series, but the first time he has made my best-of-the week list.  Bridgman is an art dealer in the Berkshires.  In each story he and his partner find themselves reluctantly involved in crimes related to art.

And let us pause to talk about one of the many things a mystery can do.  It can reveal details about some aspect of the world that most of us know nothing about.  In this case the subject is art authentification.

Bridgman's gallery contains some paintings by a recently deceased artist named Madie Balan.  The trust that supervises her estate insists that he can't legally sell them unless (and until) they authenticate them as genuine Balans.  But the members of the trust own some of her work, which means every work they declare genuine makes their own property less rare and therefore less valuable.

Conflict of interest?  You betcha.  But that's not the whole story, because determining whether the works are genuine may be impossible.  Apparently the artist sometimes started a work and let someone else finish it.  (Hey, so did Rembrandt...nothing new there.)  So the matter of real and fake is almost a matter of philosophy.

And I haven't even mentioned the murder. 

Two complaints about the story.  The protagonists don't actually solve it.  They merely accidentally cause the killer to reveal himself.  Yes, they fall into the category of amateur detectives, but that's a little more amateur than I prefer.

And second is a more personal gripe.  This story features characters named Bridgman, Balan,  Bess, and Bosch.  At two points the author and/or editor get confused and Bess becomes Beth.  There are twenty-six perfectly good letters in the alphabet.  Why torture the reader like that?

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