Monday, June 10, 2019

Robert Goldsborough, Death of an Art Collector

Robert Goldsborough, Death of an Art Collector
Open Road Integrated Media
Copyright © Robert Goldsborough 2019
ISBN 978-81504-0-57547

The writer of mysteries whose work I have most often re-read is Rex Stout.  I think his mysteries are among the best ever written, and that the Nero Wolfe books, in particular, are consistently excellent—inhabited by interesting characters (particularly the main continuing characters, Wolfe; Archie Goodwin, his assistant; Inspector Cramer, whose first name we never actually learn…), possessing generally excellent plots, and concluding with mostly satisfying solutions to the crimes.  Following Stout’s death in 1974, it seemed unlikely that there would be any new books, and particularly Nero Wolfe books for me (and others like me).

However, in the 1980s, a Chicago journalist, Robert Goldsborough, wrote a “Nero Wolfe” mystery as a (as I recall) Christmas present for his mother.  He subsequently received permission from Stout’s estate to have it published, and it appeared d in1986 (Murder in E Minor).  In 2019, Goldsborough published the 14th of his re-creations of Nero Wolfe’s world.  They do not come close to the originals, but several of the early books were reasonably well done.  And I continue to buy them and read them.

The most recent entry—Death of An Art Collector (2019) [1]—does a better job than have some of the recent books of getting both Goodwin’s and Wolfe’s “voices” right (although that is, actually, faint praise), and he provides us with the beginning of a potentially interesting tale. [2]

Goodwin accompanies his long-time companion Lily Rowan to a dinner at which the plans for and the progress on the on the construction of the Guggenheim Museum are the focus, and at which the attendees are almost all wealthy potential supporters of the New York art scene, or others with a deep commitment to fine art and particularly painting.  Goodwin and Rowan are seated at a table with the group who will become the focus of the story:
Arthur Wordell, an extremely wealth art collector, whose collection centers on Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings
Nadia Wordell, his daughter
Faith Richmond, an author of several biographies of 19th century artists
Henry Banks, who serves as the curator for the collections of several wealthy collectors
Roger Mason, Wordell’s own private curator
Arthur Sterling, editor and publisher of Art & Artists magazine
Zondra Zagreb, an artist whose works get described as abstract expressionist
(Two others will also be involved—Wordell’s estranged wife Alexis and Boyd Tatum, a professor of art history at NYU, who has published his one series of books about art and artists.)

It’s a promising beginning, I thought, but things began to fall apart quite quickly.  At the dinner that opens the story, various people tell Wordell that he should seriously consider leaving his art collection [3] as a bequest to the Guggenheim.  This is a serious problem, because the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which owns the collection developed by the late Mr. Guggenheim, has as its mission “to promote the understanding and appreciation of art, architecture, and other manifestations of visual culture, primarily of the modern and contemporary periods, and to collect, conserve, and study’ modern and contemporary art.’ [4]  Or, to put it bluntly, the Guggenheim would not want his collection, and every one f those people would know it.  (The notion that Wordell should leave his collection to the Guggenheim becomes a recurring motif in the book.)

Unsurprisingly, perhaps (especially given the book’s title), Wordell dies, falling, or having been pushed, from the 20th floor office he leases in a rather run-down building near Times Square.  His death occurs fairly late at night; he had a habit of spending time there at night, sitting in the window (literally, sitting on the window frame, dangling he feet outside), watching the lights and enjoying the sounds of Manhattan.

His daughter, Nadia, wants to hire Wolfe to discover how he died—accident, suicide, or murder—and she thinks it’s murder.  The NYPD, on the other hand, has decided it was an accident and is not investigating further.  After a period in which Wolfe refuses to act, he consents to accept her as a client.  He interviews the people listed above, first singly, with little or no progress that I could discern.  And then he assembles them all (including Inspector Cramer and his chief assistant, Sergeant Purley Stebbins) what turns out to be a final meeting.  His questioning, it seemed to me, was not discovering anything new, and certainly does not point conclusively at any of the suspects.  So how do we discover the guilty party?  The murderer, for it was murder, leaps up and runs out of the old brownstone.  With Goodwin in hot pursuit, and the police trailing along behind.

A most unsatisfactory conclusion.

[1] Open Road Integrated Media.

[2] Not that the prose is anything other than fairly pedestrian.  And it includes some howlers, as, for example, this, from p. 98: “…Wolfe sat for several minutes, eyes unblinking, for several minutes, staring across the room…”  I defy you, or anyone, to stare unblinking for even a minute.

[3] A fraction of which is hung in. his house; the great majority of it lives in storage.