Murder in Paint is the second novel by Rodney Strong, who’s a Wellington, NZ based author. I’ve read Rodney’s debut “Troy’s Possibilities” which was an unorthodox fiction novel, and stood first in line to read “Murder in Paint”, which is Strong’s attempt of a thriller. I was not disappointed.
As a thriller author myself I always enjoy exploring other sub-genres, with an extra attraction to either political or art, the latter being a rare find. I’ve approached this novel cautiously, as like Strong’s previous novel, there is a dominant element of supernatural, and I’m not normally into such things. In this case, the anti-hero protagonist, Oliver Atkinson, reluctantly “picks up” a “hitchhiker” in the cemetery – a spirit called Violet Tumbleton – who becomes a constant presence in his head. It kind of reminded me of “Defender” by G X Todd, which is a rather unknown newish novel about an apocalyptic world where people get the “gift” of self-aware beings, voices, stuck in their heads.
Urged by the long dead Violet to find the con-woman who “stole” her name, Oliver, is sucked into a whirlpool of art-theft and a murder investigation. Fake Violet, aka Amanda, cons and steals for a living, but after a painting she sold had gone missing, and the art dealer found dead, she is picked up by the police. She then names Oliver, who she randomly met, as her partner. Oliver, who’s a stay-at-home-dad that quit his 9-5 job in pursuit of a career as an author (probably loosely based on Mr Strong, who has done the same) is anything but the cunning partner you’d want on a task like this. With the police breathing done his neck, a hired-thug called Victor who believes Oliver knows where the painting is, Amanda’s shenanigans and Violet in his head, Oliver is forced to take control of his life again.
Let me just start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. The supernatural element has completely slipped off my mind, and the interaction between Oliver and Violet seemed so natural that I nearly forgot to mention she’s a spirit of a long-dead woman in my review! Oliver is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and his suburban life is thrown into a mess, which he doesn’t know how to approach, left alone solve. His reliance on a con-artist is both believable and aggravating, I really wanted to shout to the pages “snap out of it mate!”, but it’s also part of his charm. A character I could very well identify with, as it seems like my life has the same kids-induced mess, as his.
Strong’s writing is accurate, without being rigid, the book flows, and I found myself waiting for my work commutes, in order to get on with it. The art plot, as the main drive behind the mystery was great, and Strong has done such a great job making it plausible, that I actually opened Google to search for the artists he mentions, disappointed to find they weren’t real.
If I must point out a flaw, is that the resolution was a bit expected, nor was the climax too nail-biting, however – it was not disappointing. There were also a couple of opportunities where it seemed neither Oliver nor Strong knew how the former will get out of a situation he had gotten himself into, and the latter spared us the dialogue which got him out of it. It wasn’t common but it stuck out. Also, I’d expected a few more questions from Oliver about the afterlife (!) – not necessarily answers.
All in all a great thriller, I really liked it, 4.5 stars is the proper score. Looking forward to the next one, in what appears to be the start of a series.