Book Number: N/A
Read this book for: moral ambiguity, twisted and gritty crimes, sexual content, noir, minimalist writing, philosophical moments
Quick Review: A subtle, minimalist portrait of a life lived in a moral grey area – not so much a whodunnit as an exploration of right and wrong – but utterly compelling. So hard to put down!
Philip and Amanda Oliver are pillars of New York’s SoHo art scene, until Amanda is found murdered in their loft, and Philip – suffering from a degenerative brain disease – confesses to the killing. But he doesn’t remember being in Los Angeles at the time, thousands of miles away. Art dealer Jackson Wyeth is asked to help his friend, PI Ed Hogan, investigate the killing on behalf of Philip’s lawyer. Trying to save his friend Philip from jail time for a crime he likely didn’t commit, Wyeth begins to peel back the layers surrounding the family, and finds depravity there that shocks even him, despite his SoHo lifestyle…
SOHO SINS is a debut novel from Richard Vine, who has spent his life in the art world and is a global expert on fine art. He turns that knowledge into a deftly executed and chilling mystery that shows the darker side of beautiful things. Particularly as a debut novel, this novel is an exceptional read: sensitive subjects and dark thoughts handled with thoughtfulness and subtlety to make for a gripping experience.
There’s a bit of a ‘whodunnit’ mystery in this novel, with a decent puzzle: a man who has confessed to a murder that he doesn’t remember, likely because he didn’t commit it. However, I found that that aspect of the novel was not really at the forefront of the narrative. Instead, it served almost as a background thread to string together a series of other discoveries and to offer main character Jackson Wyeth an opportunity to cast a judgmental look at the world he inhabits. Instead of this detracting from the novel, it actually increases the interest, as the investigations into other crimes spiral out from this beginning.
Jackson’s investigations lead him into some dark territory, involving sexual crimes and various cover-ups, as well as force him to confront his own moral failings. This investigation into moral character is actually fascinating. Jackson is a reluctantly introspective character, and does not want to examine his own life too closely, but is forced to. It makes for an utterly mesmerizing reading experience as he tries to draw behavioral lines while trying to maintain the fiction of a carefree, morally ambiguous life. This is really the heart of the story, and it is incredibly poignant.
The other beautiful thing about this novel is its minimalist noir styling. It’s an utterly effortless read, with wonderful pacing and incredible subtlety. Suspense is built more from a question of morals than from the threat of imminent danger. The writing is clean and simple, but also intelligent and captures the somewhat grim, world-weary tone of the best noir.
If you are a noir fan, you should absolutely read SOHO SINS. It is a dark journey, but one that you will not be able to set aside once you have picked it up. Its subtle sense of mystery will completely bewitch you.