Fresh Meat: Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm

Death of an Artist by Kate WilhelmDeath of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm is a stand-alone psychological thriller (available March 27, 2012).

Kate Wilhelm’s work covers an extraordinary range across the genres of science fiction, fantasy and mystery. In 1977, the World Science Fiction Society presented a Hugo Award for best novel to Wilhelm for her post-apocalyptic Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, and in 2003 she was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. She has long focused on mystery writing, particularly in the Constance and Charlie series and her novels featuring Barbara Holloway.

Death of an Artist  is a stand-alone, but the main characters could easily return in another book. There are so many wounded people living in this novel, it’s difficult for the reader to unravel the individual problems pulling everyone together and at the same time pushing them apart. The death of tortured but brilliant artist, Stefi, leads her mother, Marni, and her daughter, Van, to Tony Mauricio, a wanderer who stops in the small Oregon town of Silver Bay and picks up a job in woodworking to keep his hands busy while he wrestles the demons he carries from his haunted past as a New York police detective.

We get a sense of Tony early in the book.

Then, lying on the bed, he thought about the zigzag trail he had cut across the country after leaving New York City. Up to see his sister in Albany, down to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit his mother, who had moved there from upstate New York following the death of Tony’s father. On to Las Vegas, on again, driving a few hours every day from place to place with no destination in mind, just driving with the thought that he would know it when he saw it. He had arrived in Portland, Oregon, with that vague thought still in his head and a bit of regret that he had not yet found it, a place where he wanted to stay and stop the insane driving.

The three women, mother, daughter and granddaughter are harder to decipher. How can Marnie be such a rock, and Van be so purpose driven, while Stefi, the link between them is exceedingly difficult, wildly erratic, and most perplexingly, refuses to sell her magnificent and valuable paintings? After Stefi is found dead, Van describes her mother.

“I think for most of her life she was hiding. Hiding her real art, her fears, herself. All that makeup, those awful clothes, all an effort to hide herself. That’s why she didn’t want to sell most of it, it was too revealing. I think that so often after a painting or a series of paintings that were disturbing, frightening, she would turn to more conventional ones, as if trying to escape the compulsion. It became a pattern that never really worked for her.”

The interaction among all the major characters is consistently drama-filled and often gives the impression that each individual’s psyche has been deliberately designed for just this collision of actions and people.

If you enjoy novels where the mystery is secondary to the examination of characters and motive, then Death of An Artist will keep you turning pages.

Terrie Farley Moran’s recent collection of short stories, THE AWARENESS and other deadly tales, is currently available in e-format for the Nook and the Kindle. Terrie blogs at Women of Mystery

Read all of Terrie Farley Moran’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. Deborah Lacy

    Great review Terrie! I had never of the author before I read this. Thanks for posting.

  2. Terrie Farley Moran

    I know. It is strange. I never heard of Kate Wilhem either and considering all the aclaim she’s been getting for decades, I don’t undertand how I missed her until so recently. When I have the time, I may look into her series mysteries.

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