Author: Janice Law
Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / 1940s/ London / Historical Figure Fictionalized / LGBT / Murder Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Mysterious Press.com / Open Road Integrated Media (9/4/2012)
Did I finish?: I raced through this one!
One-sentence summary: Painter Francis Bacon becomes a snitch for police during World War II when he's tangled in a series of crimes, from illegal gambling to murder.
Reading Challenges: E-books, Historical Fiction, NetGalley
Do I like the cover?: I don't have strong feelings either way -- the sort of charcoal-y sketchiness of it is kind of evocative of an artist's quick rendition.
I'm reminded of...: Nicola Upson
First line: "Got a light?" I asked the bulky man silhouetted against the gray night sky and the faint glimmer of the Serpentine.
Do... I love the article the author wrote about why she wrote this novel?: YES. She answers, in her own words, "...how a reserved, virtually teetotaling old lady from rural Connecticut, who, incidentally, just celebrated her fiftieth wedding anniversary, came to write about that gay, promiscuous, thoroughly urban, alcoholic genius, Francis Bacon." YUM!
Did... I spend a bunch of time researching Francis Bacon's art while reading?: YES. And I was reminded of why he's not on the top of my list of favorite artists -- his stuff is creeeeepy!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy -- this is an unusual angle for a WWII novel, so I think that will appeal -- and I love the combination of LGBT fiction and murder mystery.
Why did I get this book?: I was intrigued by this unusual spin on the WWII murder mystery.
Review: Thankfully, I don't mind when historical figures are wrangled into improbable fictions, and in this case, I loved watching Francis Bacon slum it and fight crime in World War II London.
Bacon, a crazy surrealist modernist painter who totally creepies me out (warning: painting is wicked disturbing!), is the narrator of this quick, dirty, exciting murder mystery set in the 1940s. An asthmatic, Bacon was unfit for service and instead worked for the Air Raid Precautions (ARP), doing rounds in London during the Blitz, ensuring blackout conditions were observed. Those dark nights, when his duties were completed, he would indulge in a quick pickup at a local park with an anonymous man. Living with his beloved nanny -- near blind, but sharp as a tack -- Bacon was kept in painting supplies thanks to his married lover, a local alderman, with whom he ran an illegal roulette parlor now and then for extra cash.
Naturally inclined toward trouble with a strong disinterest in police, Bacon nonetheless finds himself forced to work with a local cop when he continues to stumble upon murdered men in his neighborhood. With the Blitz killing many indiscriminately, the pointed murders provoke additional fear in Bacon and his circle of acquaintances.
I don't know much about Bacon other than having a passing awareness of his art, so I can't say whether Law's articulation of him is accurate or irreverent. I loved him -- he was wry and self-deprecating, quick and clever and kind of sketchy, bold and dirty and observant -- and he was a fascinating narrator for a World War II/London Blitz murder mystery. Through Bacon, Law's writing is pretty and poignant, artistic without feeling contrived. I had something like ten pages of bookmarks for a 179-page story -- I couldn't stop noting lines I loved, like this one, from about midway, when Bacon helps a crew of men dig rubble off someone after one of the nightly bombings.
The dog dived toward the cavity newly opened in the mess of brick and timber before raising an eerie howl. Strange how effortlessly expressive animals are, while we hairless beasts must struggle over canvass and paints and the English language. (p73-74)
For those who care, there's lots of implied gay sex but nothing overt; still, I felt deliciously seedy while reading. I raced through this one and would have loved it if it were twice or three times the length; hell, I'd love it if this became a series. I so liked Bacon, that rascal, dapper and damaged. Whether 'accurate' to the historical figure or not, Law's Bacon is a character I already miss.
*** *** ***
I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Fires of London to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 10/12.