The Strange Case of the Dutch Painter

Written by Timothy Miller
Review by Trish MacEnulty

After reading Miller’s delightful book, The Strange Case of Eliza Doolittle, I was excited to get a chance to review the second in his Sherlock Holmes series. His latest does not disappoint. In fact, centered as it is around the mysterious death of Vincent van Gogh, the book is even more intriguing than the first mystery.

This one begins when Watson comes across a painting, apparently by Van Gogh, among his deceased friend’s effects, accompanied by a mysterious manuscript written in German. When Watson locates the author of the manuscript, an expert in authenticating paintings, the man relates an adventure he had with a man named “Vernet”— a detective who bears a striking resemblance to Sherlock Holmes. The untimely death, supposedly by suicide, of Vincent van Gogh sets the pair on a quest from Paris to Auvers-sur-Oise to Arles to Montpellier and back in pursuit of forgers and murderers, risking life and limb as they traverse the countryside. They encounter various historical characters, including Theo van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Gauguin. Our narrator can spot forgeries at a glance, but he makes no secret of his distaste for the Impressionists whose work is “a shadowless world, bereft of line or volume. Lurid pigments warred for attention…leaving the viewer to guess at the paintings’ subjects…” In spite of his discerning eye, he is always one step behind the detective and serves as the perfect foil.

While the book contains deft Holmesian plotting and a plethora of historical tidbits, the real draw for me is the extraordinary voice of Miller’s narrator: hilariously pompous, erudite, and evocative. The sheer riot of his descriptions captivates and invites readers to linger over the sentences rather than rush headlong through the story.