Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Perfect Genre Crossover Novel: from British author John Harvey, IN A TRUE LIGHT

I'm trying to catch up on some British authors this month, and just enjoyed my second John Harvey "novel of crime" -- this time, IN A TRUE LIGHT. To my amusement, it turns out to be a crossover with poetry, not in the form of verse, but in the sense of the poets and painters of the New York School, most especially Frank O'Hara as poet but also Jackson Pollack, Mike Goldberg (whose painting is shown above), and especially the biographical explorations by authors like David Lehman. The Cedar Grill occurs many times within the novel, which surfs a "current day" flood of consequences from a love affair between two painters that started in the Village in the heyday of New York jazz and the Beats movement.

Harvey is a British author, and the book launches there, as Sloane, a forger of fine art, exits prison and wades back into his mostly soiled life. Way before the British law enforcement teams are ready, Sloane gets a summons from a woman he hasn't heard from in half a lifetime: expatriate artist Jane Graham. Racing to her deathbed in Italy, he receives her assertion that she once bore a baby girl, whose father is ... well, Sloane.

Tangled among police teams, two sets of highly unpleasant and effective criminals (one in the UK, one in America), and a network of artists who haven't forgotten his early promise, Sloane is quickly over his head in complications. Harvey lets the plot threads show through, like streaks of color in a translucent fabric or on a wide stretched canvas being primed and receiving an outline. Sloane's goodness and generosity may be trumped by the determined criminals he's stirred up. Is jazz singer Connie Graham actually his daughter? If she is, will she believe it?

By the end of the book, I felt as though I'd seen some of the paintings come to life, as well as the bohemian days and loves in which Harvey roots his tale. And it was a great delight at the end of the book, in the acknowledgments, to realize that Boston poet and biographer William (Bill) Corbett suggested the nucleus of the book, according to its author.

Highly recommended for a summer read; it's a treat.

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