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Masterpiece In Murder by Richard Powell

Masterpiece In Murder (also released as False Colors) was first printed some time in the 1950's, I've seen both 1950 and 1955 listed as the first printing. Unlike many books of the time, it doesn't feel particularly dated. The dialog isn't so slangy as to be old fashioned 3 months after the book was published. In fact you could release it today as a modern story and the only problem would be readers wondering why the characters never use their smart phones to Google anything. The story moves along at a brisk pace. At first you can't help but wonder what all the fuss is about, but you learn what is going on right along with the main character, which is fun. The twist ending (of course there's a twist ending) is one you can probably see coming for a mile, but that doesn't make it any less satisfying.

Pete Meadows gets thrown together with the free spirited Nancy, who ropes him in on a scheme to help an artist friend of hers. The artist, Nick, is an ex-con who we soon find out is in over his head in the nefarious schemes of some unsavory people. There's a gorgeous femme fatale whose motives aren't clear. There's a feckless college buddy of Pete's. There is a dishonest art dealer who isn't above a little fraud to make some money. There is a detective who is the one character who feels very of the period (his dialog is so noirish that I couldn't help picturing his character as being played by Bogart) but even that is fun and doesn't make the story feel dated.

As the story twists and turns and the staked keep getting higher, everyone keeps selling Pete short, including Pete himself. Nancy is the only one who believes Pete can do whatever needs doing. And Pete is a believable character who doesn't fall into the omnipresent niches of either anti-hero or flaming idealist. His sense of humor is sharp, and in fact the main fault I found in the book is that it is so short and I would have liked to spend more time with this character. The ending may seem pat to some, but I found it quite satisfying, not least because the characters you don't like but keep expecting to be shown to be good after all, instead just become more and more despicable, while the characters that you like stay pretty likeable throughout. There is one particular moment when the end is telegraphed by the surprise villain giving a bit of a supervillain monologue, but even that wasn't enough to spoil the experience for me. This book will never be mistaken for a great literary masterpiece, but if you want a fun way to fritter away a few hours, this will do as well as most.


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