The Burnt Orange Heresy (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

ISBN: 0679732527
ISBN 13: 9780679732525
By: Charles Willeford

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Reader's Thoughts


This is a decent, quick mystery. An overzealous art critic will stop at nothing to further his career. When given an opportunity to interview a famous French artist, he discovers that the artist has never painted anything before. So the critic uses his insight into the conversation to create a phoney painting, as he thinks the French artist would have painted, had he the courage to do so. He then goes to great lengths to cover up any evidence of wrongdoing, creating fairly exciting end chapters. This was OK, but I'm glad it was short. Some of the conversations seemed a little fabricated and one part even reminded me of the dreaded Celestine Prophecy, the way the protagonist reacted to his girlfriend's question. The plot was decent, though.


This is the first Willeford book that I've read that was a bit of a dud to me (not counting the collection of posthumously published short stories). It starts slow, the middle is slow, the end is sort of exciting for like 3 pages, and then it's all slow again. I could not stand the narrator. And unlike with most of Willeford's other protagonists (none of whom are all that likeable) I couldn't find one aspect of Figueras that I could tolerate. I would not ever want to be in the same room as that dude, lest I get stuck listening to him pontificate about contemporary art, which--SPOILER ALERT--is what he does for the entire novel. SHUT UP YOU ARE BORING. I think maybe if he would have been developed a bit more into perhaps a Harvey Pekar-type I could have related to him a bit more. Not that one should ever really relate to Willeford's characters, but at least he'd be more well rounded and less of a droning asshole. The exciting three pages are good, but still not great, and not nearly enough to save this, although good enough to get it 2 stars versus 1. Also, the actual ending? HATED IT.And, seriously, Willeford, can I get like one female character who isn't deplorable? At this point, I'm not even asking for a strong female character, just one who does something aside from drink, have sex, ask annoying questions, and get in the way. I think I'm more of a fan of Willeford's later stuff. I like the ultra violence. And I like a crime gotten away with from time to time. And, yes, goddamnit, I like Hoke Moseley.


A nasty, little gem. As much a commentary on criticism and art as a character study and dark thriller.A lot of times when a writer attempts to delve into an exotic arena (in this case, the art world), even with research, the setting can come off more as how the writer wants the art world to be or how he/she thinks it is (This is best illustrated by the "punk rock" episode of "T.J. Hooker". The 50 year-old writer had obviously read an article in time on "punkers" and used that as the entire basis for his representation, failing miserably). So when you read a book where the writer is obviously someone writing within an arena they know, the detail and depth glows. Who knew that Willeford had a thesis on the nature of art criticism in him?This is also the best written book, purely in terms of language, that I have read by Willeford. Spare, but descriptive. Poetic, yet stern.Deserves to be consideredthe classic that it is.


Marvellous. Beautifully set in the chicanery of Florida art galleries, excellent story of a missing link in modern art. Crackles with tension, moving relentlessly forward with never a dud line.


Been meaning to read this one for a while. It fits in my back pocket, so I thought it would be good to take on my trip to Monterey/Big Sur. Charles Willeford is continually fascinating as a writer. There is nothing flashy about this book at all, but it is fantastic. His characters can always rationalize any ridiculous or insane action. This book's protagonist is no exception to that rule. Perhaps the most interested thing of all to me in Willeford's late writings (say this one and the Hoke Moseley stuff) is his characters' insistence on wearing jumpsuits. I don't know, that's just weird and wonderful to me. Apparently, they are very handy to wear and comfortable. Definitely a great, short read from a master of American fiction.


Willeford starts out as an art critic, but eventually turns the story into a murder mystery with his own twist. Not knowing the art criticism, it was hard for me to appreciate that part of the story, but Willeford does tell a good tale.


odd pulp novel with quite a theatrical take on modernsim. very seventies; there are denim jumpsuits.

Patrick McCoy

Charles Willeford was a man who knew a lot about many different subjects. His novels always give him an opportunity to show his intimate knowledge of the the South and Miami in particular. In addition, I learned a lot about the world of cock fighting from his novel The Cockfighter. It is clear from the novel that he wrote after that, Burnt Orange Heresy (1971) that he also knows a fair bit about art and art collecting. In fact, I learned that after the war he spent a few years in Peru and LA trying to establish himself as a painter. In this novel, which is also a mediation on art and the role of critics in art, up and coming art critic James Figueras is offered a proposition that can further his career by interviewing a fictional, reclusive French “Nihilist surrealist” named Jacques Debierueart, who is said to be the missing link between surrealism and abstract art. This proposition includes stealing a painting for an equally eccentric collector who is hosting the aging French artist in Florida. Figureas brings his buxom, midwestern school teacher girlfriend, Bernice Hollis in on the gambit to tragic result. I love the details like Figeras' clothes like his canary yellow jumpsuit and specific descriptions of meals eaten by the protagonist among other details. It is another fascinating and entertaining neo-noir novel from Willeford.


Finally, a disappointment from the man who wrote the spiny 'hook-up' and the engaging 'cockfighter'. The protagonist is boring and his remarks about art seem uninformed; this is strange given that the author was a painter himself. Nevertheless, despite the mythology that is setup around the French Master, it's never quite convincing. To really make him mythic would require more pages, but that's not Willeford's style. I wonder whether he was just looking for a paycheque here - his heart doesn't seem into it. Sad.

Oliver Wood

This a very clever little book about what happens when you become fixated on acquiring social position. Unlike in B. E. Ellis' American Psycho, this is not an attempt to imagine the inner world of a textbook psychiatric category. We are not in a world where all empathy and moralising is alien and absurd. Willeford creates the more believable scenario of someone who is drawn towards their goals with such focus and ferocity of speed, everything else falls out of view, including the autonomy of those immediately around him.While Burnt Orange Heresy is supposed to be Willeford's most critically acclaimed work, unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be in print any more. This is a shame since there are far less deserving works still being pressed into circulation. Willeford had a fine understanding of human motive and a pretty good ear for dialog too.


The best Willeford---better even than Miami Blues, which is fun and clever but familiar and makes me think way too hard about the utter furriness of Alec Baldwin's chest hair c. 1990. What I love about BOH is what I love about the best of literary pulp: it finds a way to erase the high culture/low culture divide. Suffice to say, the hero here is an art critic, ambitious, underhanded, entirely comfortable with his greedy-seediness. The story makes you think how much more fun and interesting Edmund Wilson, Kenneth Rexroth, and even Rex Reed would be if they were homicidal maniacs. I'm sure there's a book somewhere about the specific aesthetic theory Willeford employs throughout the narrative, but I'll leave it to others to explore that. Just rest assured if you know even a smitch about Marcel Duchamp and subsequent 1920s Dada/surrealism you'll get a chuckle out of some of the descriptions of the old master painter's work. Who knew so much could be made out of a nail hole, which comes to serve as a significant plot pivot? There are those who say the plot slags a bit in the middle, but when the critic breaks bad the pace more than picks up. Great noir climax set in the Everglades and starring a tire jack, and an interesting denouement that suggests critics do have a conscience and therefore are people too. One wishes Willeford were around to write the definitive GoodReads noir novel. It's time.


How did I miss marking this classic? I've read it three times. CW's great send-up of the art and artist community through a noir vehicle. In short, a breezy, devilish read.


As well as a novel, this one serves as a mighty lucid essay on 20th century Art, the most interesting on the subject I've read in many time, and I'm a Bachelor Of Fine Arts. I plan to give this one as a present to some of my ex-art students pals. It's amazing how unexpected and different from each other the Willeford works are. I'm a fan of him now.


This guy really knows how to write. A short, nasty, funny, noirish story, featuring a modern art critic and an old French painter so famous that no one has ever seen one of his paintings.


Swamp Duchamp murder story.

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