When I read the synopsis for this, as someone with a passing interest in art, it sounded really interesting. I hoped that reading the 8th book in the Fred Taylor art mystery series without having read any of the previous books wouldn't affect my enjoyment of the story. I was definitely keeping my fingers crossed that the book would stand on its own.
Fred Taylor is getting his hair cut when one of the salon employees furtively shows her colleague a tattoo in progress. What he sees is a scene including strange animals and naked people, and the woman describes a hidden figure she characterises as a "gremlin" She mentions an old wooden painting as the source, and Fred realises it could be rare and valuable and decides he has to see it. In the course of trying to track it down he meets Arthur, the tattooist with amazing recall, and his friends. Fred finds no one is willing to talk and events turn sinister when one potential source of information is killed in a hit and run accident. At the same time Fred is involved in a nascent relationship with librarian Molly, providing him with a pleasant distraction.
In this book the reader finds out a little about Fred's background and his present employment, working for art collector Clayton Reed. However he still felt quite mysterious, although likeable. I imagine had I read any of the previous books in the series I would have had a better feel for who Fred is and what has happened in his past. I don't think it took away from the story though. The whodunnit aspect of the book for me was secondary to the who has it? and what is it? questions about the mysterious painting, and for the amount of time devoted to it in the book I suspect that was the author's intention. His descriptions of various artworks got me interested enough to google those I wasn't already familiar with. It's always a bonus to come away feeling like I've learnt something from a book, as well as being entertained.
I didn't feel the other characters were developed in any great depth but it wasn't to the detriment of the story, and I wonder whether Molly will warrant more time in future books in the series. My only real negative was that in places dialogue was more like a stream of conciousness, very stop and start, and at times it became hard to follow what a character was talking about as their thoughts jumped around. Mostly I was able to gloss over that but I hope I didn't miss anything important.
This was a very good read with one slightly worryingly and unexpected side effect - it's reignited my interest in getting more ink myself! It works fine as a stand alone book, although I can see it would probably be better if I'd read the earlier books. In fact I've already been and looked for the others in the series (although disappointingly only a couple of the previous 7 are available for kindle) I'm glad to have found this series.
Format: E-book, advance review copy, anticipated release date 6th Sept 2011
My rating: 4*