I would read many more books in which crimes were solved by Count Henri-Marie-Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec, who frequently mixes up his sword cane with his flask cane, in which is concealed cognac and a cordial glass. The artist as inebriated detective is the best thing about this magical-realist historical farce, in which Toulouse-Lautrec teams up with Lucien Lessard, a baker and aspiring painter, to investigate the murder of Vincent van Gogh. It’s a romp through the cabarets, brothels, and studios of Impressionist Paris.
“Henri was finding the detective work did not agree with his constitution as it involved talking to people who were odd or stupid, without the benefit of the calming effect of alcohol.”
With his last breath, van Gogh warned his fellow artists against the Colorman, a pigment grinder who supplies his customers with a particularly potent shade of blue, and his female companion, a woman of many guises. Perhaps you’ve seen her as Manet’s Olympia, or the inexplicably nude picnicker in Le déjeuner sur l’herbe. Maybe she’s Whistler’s White Girl, or Toulouse-Lautrec’s Carmen Gaudin. Maybe she’s the mysterious and elusive Juliette, with whom Lucien Lessard has fallen in love. And if she is, Lessard is in trouble, because where this muse goes, madness and murder follow. As they say in France, cherchez la femme.
Moore’s humor often comes with its own rim-shot (of course Georges Seurat’s muse is named “Dot”), but the number of things that are played for laughs can’t disguise the fact that Moore has fallen deeply in love with this time period and its crazy bohemian painters, and his enthusiasm buoys the story.
As an added bonus, the text includes color reproductions of most of the paintings that are mentioned, so, although it may be like learning about Wagner from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, you can pick up quite a lot of art history. And if you want to know more, Moore has a time sink of a web site preserving his research notes, additional paintings, and photographs.
Check the WRL catalog for Sacré Bleu.