Tue
Jul 4 2017 3:00pm

An Artistic Debut: Reviewing SoHo Sins by Richard Vine

SoHo Sins by Richard Vine is an intriguing debut novel about the underworld of the New York art scene (now available in paperback!).

Read David Cranmer's review of SoHo Sins by Richard Vine, and then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win a paperback copy!

“You can’t deal successfully in art if you dwell on where the money comes from and how it gets made. I concern myself with my clients’ tastes and credit ratings, not their ethics.” —Jackson Wyeth

Nothing like an admixture of art plus murder for a mystery-fused suspense tale. A classic example is Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey, where a vain man's portrait ages as he stays youthful and in a final fit of indignation, he stabs at his degenerate likeness with horrific repercussions. The film The Two Mrs. Carrolls (1947) catches Humphrey Bogart, as Geoffrey Carroll, painting images of his wives before planning their deaths. (There's just something, dare I say, creepy when the camera zooms in on the canvas of these human creations and that other world of color, seeming to hold court against mankind's devious nature, enacting lustful revenge.) 

Richard Vine, in SoHo Sins, mines another vein of the murderous side in the art world, where dealers and wealthy collectors acquire Rembrandt’s and Picasso’s like the rest of us buy bubblegum. Similar to Grey and Carroll, the SoHo characters have cultivated an extravagant, enclosed nook all their own, surrounded by Pollack’s and Kandinsky’s, while lounging in Wassily chairs in front of modernist cube-shaped tables.

In this cold backdrop, affluent socialite Amanda Oliver is slain in her loft and her husband Phillip immediately confesses. He's a bit of a heel for having walked out on his first wife, Angela, and their daughter, Melissa, then carrying on a steady affair, while married to Amanda, with a twenty-eight-year-old Italian model named Claudia…plus multiple other liaisons.

Still, Phillip’s friend Jackson Wyeth (rather too perfect a name for an art dealer) doesn't believe this immoral nature is necessarily a path to murder, and he encourages Phillip's personal lawyer to hire a gumshoe friend named Hogan to begin corroborating Phillip's alibi to get to the bottom of the slaying. Hogan isn't as familiar with the SoHo art scene and asks Wyeth to accompany him to navigate. As the unlikely twosome nose about the immaculate “crypt” where Amanda was shot in the head, Wyeth muses:

It was more than just a matter of imagining, too vividly, what had happened at that juncture of corridor and open space. Something was off in the apartment itself. There were no signs of ransacking or theft, not so much as a broken wineglass. Yet the very normalcy of the environment felt bogus, as though the rooms were sworn to unwilling secrecy, the designer objects longing to reveal some rude, unspeakable truth.

Wyeth guides us through SoHo Sins in a relaxed, knowledgeable manner. (Had a most peculiar impression that the protagonist's voice was that of Meyer from John D. Macdonald's Travis McGee series—yes, a quirky notion.) With Hogan in tow, Wyeth begins the tried-and-true detective examination of all parties associated with Amanda and Phillip Oliver. Standard genre track.

Where SoHo Sins goes beyond expectations is in the ironic intricacies of the community’s entanglements—Wyeth remains friends with Phillip’s first wife and precocious daughter and, though he was also a friend of Amanda’s, he had no qualms introducing Phillip to other women. The engaging morality tête-à-tête between Wyeth and Hogan intensifies as the story progresses. Here’s some lucid introspection from Wyeth as he ponders one’s fall from the moral high ground:

A moral change is like aging. The alterations are subtle and deep, the damages cumulative. There is no way to perceive them, except by looking away and looking again, as one must to see the passage of time on the face of a clock.

Mr. Vine supplies plenty of juicy suspects, from Phillip's executive goons to Amanda's boy-toy on the side, seemingly all having a damn good reason why Mrs. Phillip Oliver #2 was better off underground. Even Wyeth, from my armchair detecting, came under scrutiny with his too cool—above the fray—reporting of an incident he'd outwardly rather not be bothered with. The denouement is clever, having built masterfully on a hill of red herrings. 

“Write what you know,” dictates the Mark Twain quote, and according to the SoHo back blurb, Richard Vine, as editor of a leading art publication, has an insider’s scoop to this New York microcosm. The streets, buildings, and people become three dimensional, straight off Mr. Vine’s canvas, creating a world that flourishes right alongside other masterpieces from the art world. Even minor characters like Laura, Wyeth’s assistant, are given room to breathe and develop over sixty-five chapters.

Mr. Vine juggles a plethora of different voices quite well. The only character I found to be a minor misstep, or rather a slight glitch, was that of Phillip Oliver. Phillip's disintegration into crazy guy who still runs a major conglomerate wasn’t convincing to me. Mention is made that he could be pulling a mob boss Vincent Louis Gigante (The Chin) “crazy” to spare Claudia or he genuinely has a medical condition that is impairing him. Either way, the words coming out of his mouth didn’t ring organic. 

Along a similar line, the opening epigraph from German philosopher and social critic Theodor Adorno, "Every work of art is an uncommitted crime,” at first inspection seemed to be just a phrase with some fitting catchwords to begin the story, but upon reading further, in an abstract way, it set the mood for this powerhouse debut.

For a novel about art and murder, it would be a crime not to take a moment to fawn over the cover painting by Robert Maguire (1921-2005), a renowned 20th-century illustrator. A book that brings all the elements together like SoHo Sins to make a pulp reminiscent of the “old days” requires a packaging worthy of the material. The cover art by Mr. Maguire depicting a shady man in a trench coat standing over a brightly dressed woman in a grimy alleyway is certainly appropriate eye candy for this top pulp fiction piece by first-time author Richard Vine from the publishing giant, Hard Case Crime. 
 

Comment below for a chance to win a paperback copy of SoHo Sins by Richard Vine!

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SoHo Sins Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2017/07/an-artistic-debut-reviewing-soho-sins-by-richard-vine beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) July 4, 2017. Sweepstakes ends 2:59 p.m. ET July 12, 2017. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

 

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David Cranmer is the publisher and editor of BEAT to a PULP. Latest books from this indie powerhouse include the alternate history novella Leviathan and sci-fi adventure Pale Mars. David lives in New York with his wife and daughter.

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64 comments
Charles Gramlich
2. cgramlic
Great cover. Meyer from Travis McGee eh? Interesting.
3. Oscar Case
I thought I had read this book, but it must have been one similar about SoHo and the art colony. Nice review.
David Cranmer
4. DavidCranmer
Garnett, well-executed mystery. You are certain to enjoy.

cgramlic, I know that was an odd line to add in this review but I just couldn't help hearing it. And I mean it as a compliment. Like the Meyer character.

Thanks, Oscar. Appreciate you stopping over.
Eric Beversluis
6. crimeric
I'm intrigued by the analogy between moral decline and aging. That alone would be enough to get me to read this novel.
Betty Breier
7. BLB
I just love the covers on all of the Hard Case Crime novels.
Lawrence Lundigan
9. larry1179
Jackson Wyeth as Meyer
I am seriously intrigued
Carole Knoles
12. carknol
Seems that lives of the "other half" are not necessarily all we may think they are.
LAURI COATES
13. blclcc1
This sounds great....I would have been drawn to it just by the cover, it reminds me of those good old detective nior books
Carl
15. Carl Scott
Great-sounding story and super retro cover. I'm all in for this one, thanks for the chance to win a copy
17. Ida Sue
Sounds very interesting. Was particularly captured by the thought of Meyer from Travis McGee as narrator.
Karen Hester
18. rosalba
New York art scene is an intriguing setting - great cover
Karen Hester
19. rosalba
New York art scene is an intriguing setting - great cover
Lori Provenzano
20. Mountainesque
Appears to be irresistible both on and between the covers!
Bill Wasser
21. BengalBill
I have read many of the Hard Case Crime books. This is one I missed and hope to read it soon.
Janice Santillo
22. themommazie
I love the cover. That alone makes me want to read the book.
Jean Feingold
25. dusksunset
A guy I knew in college was an art dealer in NYC. He came to a bad end - but that's another story.
Jean Feingold
26. dusksunset
A guy I knew in college was an art dealer in NYC. He came to a bad end - but that's another story.
Portia Asher
27. pixie
I love a mystery (yes, like the radio program)..I'm that old..I would like to win this book.
Chi Shannon
28. anastasiafall
Love the setting! I'm ready to go underground in the art world :)
Ellen
30. Neroon
The cover art reminds me of those 40s and 50s noir movies I love.
31. John W. Davis
All the elements of noir are here. You'll find reflections on the mystery of dark urgings, mused on by an unlikely pair. For me, the most enthralling were the observations on the art world as avenue of vast wealth, while at the same time secretive, with hidden meanings to be discerned only with time and careful detection. Altogether, a great latticework for the development of fine characters as the review so clearly indicates.
John Davis
33. John
All the elements of noir are here. You'll find reflections on the mystery of dark urgings, mused on by an unlikely pair. For me, the most enthralling were the observations on the art world as avenue of vast wealth, while at the same time secretive, with hidden meanings to be discerned only with time and careful detection. Altogether, a great latticework for the development of fine characters as the review so clearly indicates.
35. Helen Martin
Love the Hard Case Crime novels. Soho Sins sounds like a winner! Not to mention those wonderful covers.
Peter W. Horton Jr.
36. mosaix
Artists can be strange people! Yes!
susan beamon
38. susanbeamon
This book sounds interesting. I might like it.
Michael Carter
39. rubydog
I'd love to win.
It sounds good.
Please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks!
Bruce
40. buppey
This appears to be an interesting novel. Art and murder? interesting combo.
Louis Burklow
42. Nash62
I love the Hard Case Crime books. This one sounds great.
Connie Williamson
45. angelbun
I'd love to read this book - it sounds like something I'd enjoy.
L
46. LStirling
A murder mystery surrounding an odd group of high-faluting art elitests. What's not to love? :)
Susan Morris
47. Samfor3
I've been a fan of Hard Case Crime books for quite a while. They never disappoint! Looking forward to this new edition.
49. Linda A
Great writing. A fascinating plot.
Tawney Mazek
50. tmaze
Climbing the 'hill of red herrings' would be quite enjoyable.
Jane Schwarz
51. Janeschwarz
Well, WOW! Love the premise, art and crime. Thanks for the opportunity to win a copy of "SoHo Sins".
vicki wurgler
52. bison61
I love a good murder mystery book-love the cover
Mary Ann Woods
55. puttputt1198eve
I studied art history in college and love mystery books. This sounds like the perfect book for me!
John Smith
56. jsmith2jsmith
"Her dress was as red as her lips, and her burning flesh set that alley afire like a molotov cocktail! I knew I should walk away, but I couldn't help myself.... "I'm cold! And I'm hot! Where am I?' 'You're here, baby, here.'"
Jeffrey Raiffe
58. njguy12@gmail.com
This looks like a cool and interesting book to read.
Kris Kaminski
59. kjkski
I know film noir, is book noir a term? I'm in!
Kris Kaminski
59. kjkski
I know film noir, is book noir a term? I'm in!
Steven Wilber
60. dragonreader
I'm a big fan of the hardcase Crime book line, so I'll definitely check this one out.
Sally Schmidt
62. bigcootie
Good review, appreciated the reference to The Picture of Dorian Grey and The Two Mrs. Carrolls.
Pat Murphy
63. murphyp2011
Putting it on my "to read" list. Book noir is a great genre.
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