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by Ruth Dudley Edwards
Allison & Busby, November 2013
320 pages
19.99 GBP
ISBN: 0749013354

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Baroness Ida 'Jack' Troutbeck, Mistress of St Martha's school, harangues friends and acquaintances at every opportunity about the rubbish passed off as art by leading lights of the establishment, in particular Tracy Emin and Damien Hurst. When Jack disappears, her friends are at a loss, but within a twenty-four hour period another nine persons have been snatched, all closely connected with the art world. Jack has friends at Scotland Yard, but the culprit is unclear. One suspect is a Russian oligarch, Oleg Sarkovsky, of dubious reputation and known to have made some questionable investments in art, but in the temporary absence of the Police Commissioner the man in charge is unwilling to take resolute action. The fate of Jack and the other victims begins to look grim.

Jack and various friends of hers have appeared in many of Edwards' ten previous novels, which also confront establishment sacred cows. There is certainly no doubt about the subject of the author's ire in KILLING THE EMPERORS, which spells out in great detail the questionable originality and meaning of much current 'conceptual art', the vast sums of public money wasted upon it, and the incestuous links between critics, gallery owners and investors which have pushed aside true talent to the benefit of self-promoters with nothing but sensation and shock to offer.

Much of the factual background on the works of Hurst, Emin, etc. has previously been featured in the press and will be familiar to readers, although gathered together it certainly makes damning reading. Edward's accusations about the luminati of the art establishment generally are conveyed through the fictitious victims in the book: art teachers, dealers, and critics who participate in the great hoax for their own benefit. How satisfying, then, for those persuaded by Edward's analysis, to have those responsible meet ironic and grisly ends. Some may feel the accusations are too scattergun and crude to give a balanced picture of the world of art, although it is undeniable that there is a good deal of truth in it. Whatever your views, readers are likely to receive future pronouncements on the latest art wunderkind with increased scepticism.

The art theme is so pervasive that the 'crime' aspect of the book, the kidnapping and its resolution, is clearly subordinate and not particularly convincing. The 'big brother' references are however contemporary and amusing, and I suspect people who read Ruth Dudley Edwards will be after something other than realistic crime. KILLING THE EMPERORS provides thought-provoking insight into the vagaries of the art world set within a moderately entertaining murder mystery.

Chris Roberts is a retired manager of shopping centres in Hong Kong, and now lives in Bristol, primarily reading.

Reviewed by Chris Roberts, January 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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