The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman Review 4/5

The Brutal Art by Jesse KellermanOverall Impression: Finally a thriller I enjoyed! Smart, sophisticated and classy.

I’ve had this novel on my bookshelf for a long time. At school I went through a phase of researching books when I was bored in ICT class, and I found The Brutal Art mentioned a lot with rave reviews. So, I eventually purchased a second hand copy from ebay. After one failed attempt to read it while waiting in a Thorpe Park queue with friends (too full of nervous anticipation) it made it’s way back to my shelf soon forgotten. Until now.
I am also using this book as part of the Eclectic Reader Challenge for the Crime/Mystery category. 🙂

In a New York slum, a tenant has mysteriously disappeared – leaving behind a huge collection of sick but brilliant paintings.
For art dealer Ethan Muller, this is the discovery of a lifetime. He displays the pictures in his gallery and watches as they rocket up in value.
But suddenly the police want to talk to him. It seems that the missing artist had a deadly past. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home – and leave him fearing for his own life.

Ethan Muller is a hot shot living in New York. He has money to burn, a no strings attached relationship and a successful art gallery. He has everything he could ever need. Or at least he thinks so, until he comes across Victor Cracke’s paintings. Disturbed and intoxicated by the work he sets up an exhibit which is an instant success. Desperate to know more he searches for the missing painter; interrogating neighbours, shuffling through boxes and reading the mans diary, but gets nowhere. So when ex police officer McGrath contacts him with potential information, it is a deal too good to refuse. McGrath believes the paintings link to a series of brutal murders, young boys that Cracke has drawn into his work in blood red. Ethan angrily rejects the theory, but is soon forced to accept the possibility when he starts receiving threatening letters supposedly from the artist himself. Engulfed in the mystery Ethan can’t let it go, so he delves back into the old investigation. But when McGrath passes away Ethan is left without help. Does he dare continue when the investigation may cost his life? And is Cracke really responsible for the murders?

The back of the book describes The Brutal Art as a thriller, the blurb indicates a crime novel, but at it’s heart I think this is mostly a mystery novel. Although it had elements of all three, this probably explains why I enjoyed it more than other thrillers I have read.
This poor book I have to admit has been neglected. I started reading it a week before I left for university, so unavoidably it has taken a back seat with numerous interruptions, and at times was ignored all together. So it ended up taking me 3 months-ish to read a 416 page book!!! But even with everything going on, I really enjoyed it.

The best thing about The Brutal Art for me was the writing. It was so refreshing and different from other books I have read. It was sarcastic, confident and at times arrogant but not in a clichéd way when you feel it’s been done a thousand times before. I’ve read a lot of books that have tried to do this, but I find the majority of them normally fall flat. I can’t even quite explain what about it was so great, it just felt so original.
For example:

‘I had no interest in bridge-building. When my father builds a bridge, you can bet there’s going to be a toll on it.’

Now ya see? How ingenious is that?! The book also has an interesting structure. It is split 50/50 between the present (with Ethan, the mysterious paintings and the murders) and interludes that reveal the history of Ethan’s family and Cracke’s life and how they intertwine. I have to admit I didn’t like this technique at first, the reminiscing seemed a bit random and unneeded, but as the story went along I started to realize the significance and I found it really satisfying the way the separate threads came together in the end. It was also a good way of avoiding what could have been a whole lot of telling rather than showing.

The plot’s pace was good. It is not a speedy action packed book, in fact in some ways it’s quite meandering, but not in a bad way. When I think back in terms of plot, not much actually happens in the course of the book but it doesn’t feel that way when you read it because it’s really enjoyable. There were a lot of smart comments and small insightful moments and that’s what made the book great. The way Cracke’s paintings are described also felt really original – they are little drawings on square pieces of paper that fit together like a mosaic to make a whole, and if entirely put together, would be bigger than the size of a tennis court.
Now, the plot does still wander into a few clichés, the relationship between Muller and McGrath’s daughter for instance, but luckily this only took up at a small part of the book so it didn’t bother me too much.
Another reason I feel I enjoyed this book is because it is the first one I’ve read for a while that I honestly had no idea how it was going to end/conclude. I really wasn’t sure whether Cracke was a murderer and what the paintings had to do with the young boys, and I think I’ve really missed that element of mystery in the books I’ve read lately.

The characters were a bit of a mixed bag. Some I thought were really original, while others felt lazy and heavily stereotyped. Ethan was great, with his sarcastic tone, his background as a screw up and his daddy issues. Marilyn was also very compelling; her no strings attached relationship with Ethan at first seemed very superficial, but was soon given much more depth. Equally Cracke was a point of intrigue throughout the book. However, McGrath the ex cop seemed to incorporate all the traditional stereotypes – bad relationships with his family, bad tempered, drinking and smoking too much. Samantha was also somewhat lacking in personality, although not as bad as a few others in thrillers I’ve read *cough* Killing Floor *cough*.

Overall this was a good book and a very interesting read. I would recommend it to males or females aged 16 and above who enjoy sarcastic narrators, unusual mysteries and a slow but well paced plot.

Writing Style: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Entertainment: 4/5
Character Development: 3/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes.

Overall 4/5

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10 thoughts on “The Brutal Art by Jesse Kellerman Review 4/5

  1. This sounds really awesome! I love mystery/thrillers and this one sounds really intriguing, especially with the art angle aspect. I will have to check this out- it sounds really good (though I’m currently on a fantasy kick rather than a mystery one, so it ma have to wait). But yeah- thank you for bringing this to my attention. Anything related to an art mystery is fun. Academic murders are a blast, for some reason. I think it’s because most academic types tend to get worked up over nothing and react weirdly to actual important things 🙂

    • Yaay! I’m glad I could be useful. 🙂 The art aspect was exactly what drew me to the book in the first place, I agree it makes for a more interesting angle, especially as I have a vague interest in the topic. I must admit I haven’t really read many mysteries, this might even be my first! I can’t remember reading any others at the minute.
      I hope you do decide to check it out, if you do I look forward to seeing what you think of it. 🙂 Ahh, I understand. I really love the fantasy genre but I haven’t actually read any for ages for various reasons. I hope I can get back to it soon!

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