Thursday, August 29, 2013

Christopher Finch Finds A Good Girl

Good Girl Bad Girl
Christopher Finch is a kind of enigma. He's not an enigma in the classic sense of the word, but in a much more encompassing sense as he has woven his career as a critic, writer, photographer and contemporary artist. One might say he gave up on art to become the artist and author he is today.

As an art critic who wrote about everyone from David Hockney to Andy Warhol before becoming associate curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1968, Finch has an insider's view of what now has become the window dressing of a new private eye series. It takes place in New York City, 1968.

The protagonist isn't entirely an art novice either. While he doesn't profess to be an artist, Alex Novalis knows something about art. He was an art fraud detective before being busted for becoming connected to the art scene in another way. He was caught smoking pot.

Alex Novalis wants to make an investigation an art form. 

Without much of a backup career plan, becoming a private investigator seems second nature to Novalis. After all, New York City was the skids in 1968 and police precincts overburdened amidst budget cuts.

There were also plenty of people who didn't necessarily want to involve the police. Gabriel Kravitz, a wealthy construction mogul, qualifies. He didn't want to involve the police when his daughter Lydia wen missing. Given she was last seen with a radical, middle-aged artist, Novalis seems like a natural fit for the job too.

Novalis already has connections within the art community. But that doesn't mean everything is easy or a slam dunk. He still has to shuffle around the city, from scummy art lofts in pre-gentrified SoHo to luxury penthouses overlooking Central Park. He shares a few glimpses of New York City as it was then, a shambling slow cooker of sex, drugs, politics, and drugs.

It was a hot time in the city too. Washington Square Park was a hot bed for music, student demonstrations were commonplace, and the civil rights movement had galvanized the nation. It was exactly the kind of place an eccentric and semi-talented artist like Jerry Pedrosian could call home.

Not only did he thrive in the city, but it was also the kind of place where his performance art would attract attention even when his paintings were selling. It was also a great location to accept speaking engagements from liberal schools that enjoyed his controversial talks such as art providing a subversive counterculture to government.

In many ways, it's the environment that keeps the short novel moving forward as Novalis doesn't represent the modern man but what he used to be. As an investigator with more in common with the counterculture than his former occupation, his self-esteem alone seems capable of propelling him forward as the unsentimental man's man of his era. He likable as such too, even if the prose occasionally borders on dry for the times.

A little more about new author, veteran creative Christopher Finch. 

Christopher Finch
Originally born in Guernsey in the British Channel Islands, the Los Angeles resident is an artist and photographer who has had several shows in New York and California. He has also authored almost 30 books on artists and entertainers, including Rainbow: the Stormy Life of Judy Garland, The Art of Walt Disney, and Jim Henson: the Works.

This novel, Good Girl, Bad Girl, is the first in a series of detective stories that borrows on his life experiences living in SoHo when it was an urban wilderness. The result lands him in an upbeat noir category that feels more polished than gritty in places.

As an author, it seems like he is just getting started. On one hand, his tightness is spot on in telling a short tale that can be finished up in an afternoon. On the other, he doesn't hard boil the story, which makes his character too safe, the plot slightly thin, and the end rushed to wrap up loose ends. It's worth it anyway.

Good Girl, Bad Girl By Christopher Finch Sneaks 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

As the start of the series, Good Girl, Bad Girl has a lot going for it. If for no other reason, pick it up as a briskly paced, less-than-200-page introduction to a character who has room to grow. Novalis promises to be a private investigator people will enjoy as he tromps around Manhattan in the 60s and maybe the 70s.

Good Girl, Bad Girl (Alex Novalis) by Christopher Finch can be found on Amazon. You can also order the book from Barnes  & Noble but it is not listed on iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Peter Berkrot, who has the right voice to take on an investigator who lives on the fringe of the art scene.
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