An Accidental Corpse (Art of Murder Mysteries)

Written by Helen Harrison
Review by Fiona Alison

Detective Juanita (Nita) Diaz and her husband, Captain Brian (Fitz) Fitzgerald, are vacationing with their son in East Hampton, relishing a break from their gruelling work at the NYPD. On the evening of August 11, 1956, a speeding car overtakes them, veers off the road and crashes into a tree, overturning the car, and throwing artist Jackson Pollock and girlfriend, 26-year-old Ruth Kligman, from the vehicle; Pollock is dead as he hits the ground, and Kligman barely clings to life. When Nita and Fitz pull over to help, they realise there is another body in the car, that of 25-year-old Edith Metzger, a friend of Kligman’s, dead from multiple injuries. When the autopsy is completed, the coroner confirms that Edith died from strangulation before the car crashed. So the hunt for the killer begins, and Nita and Fitz’s skills are welcomed by the local police chief as the Springs Department has no detective on staff.

Harrison is the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Studio in Springs, East Hampton, and author of several books about the controversial abstract artist, Jackson Pollock, which makes her as near expert on her subject as she can be. In An Accidental Corpse she melds fact and fiction, historical characters and imagined ones, based around the death of Pollock and Metzger on that fateful night (Kligman was the only survivor). Harrison’s descriptions are spot on, describing what she sees every day in a way that makes it possible for us to feel the scenes and places as they would have been in the 1950s. She also helps us to understand a great deal about the expressionist art of Pollock and his contemporaries. This is a clever whodunit that doesn’t reveal the culprit until the very end and will appeal to art lovers and readers who enjoy mysteries based in fact. Recommended.