An Exquisite Corpse (Art of Murder Mysteries)

Written by Helen Harrison
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Surrealist artist Wilfredo Lam is found dead in his New York City studio, his body mimicking the results of the Surrealist parlor game where each artist sketches a segment on a piece of paper that has been folded in sections and hidden from others’ view. Lam’s face is covered by an African mask, one arm is in the folds of an umbrella, the other is in a galosh, one foot is bare, the other bears a rubber chicken claw. The presentation of the body leads police detectives to suspect foul play by one of Lam’s artist friends.

Helen A. Harrison is an art historian and author who specializes in modern American art. She is currently the director of the Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center in East Hampton, New York. Previous works include mysteries in The Corpse Trilogy and several volumes on Jackson Pollock.

An Exquisite Corpse is fast-paced, drawing readers into the art world as well as the underworld of drug dealing and crime in the 1940s. There are plenty of red herrings and plot twists to keep readers guessing. A problem for this reader is the underlying premise: Wilfredo Lam did not die in New York City in the 1940s; he died, as the author points out in a postscript, in 1982 in Paris. Sticklers who expect fealty to actual fact in historical novels may therefore feel they have been led astray. Other readers may just enjoy the romp.