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The Burnt Orange Heresy (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  472 ratings  ·  45 reviews
James Figueras is a brilliant art critic in search of the coup that will make him the leader in his field. Figueras has been offered a chance to meet the reclusive artist Deberieu; in return, all he has to do is steal one of the master's paintings. But from stealing, as Figueras learns, it is only a very short step to killing.
Paperback, 144 pages
Published October 3rd 1990 by Vintage (first published 1971)
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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 Edmun ...more
I remember reading this book because the poet Michael Weaver (not the well-known poet Michael Weaver but another Michael Weaver from San Diego) spoke so highly of the author.

So I read the book.

Then I too spoke highly of this author.

When a really smart writer takes on a genre populated by mostly cloneish writers, magic happens.

This author makes magic happen...over and over.

Dark. Brill. Great summer reading.
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
Willeford wrote this noir about an art critic trying to advance his career by taking advantage of a hermetic artist. The artist has built a juggernaut reputation on rarely exhibiting his work. The elements are goofy but the tone is dark deadpan. Instead of guns, dames, drugs, and jewels, Willeford's characters jockey for galleries, graduate school grants, art history articles, critical and artistic reputations with the intensity of mobsters and PIs. The book reminded me of Pynchon, though with f ...more
The book starts out a little slow. A lot of the first act is the narrator/protagonist, an art critic trying to break into the big time, musing on the nature of art criticism and the role it plays as a service, not just to consumers and patrons of art, but the artists themselves. It’s not as boring as it sounds. He takes a pretty dense piece of subject matter and breaks it down into pretty simple lay terms, even using sports analogies. I wasn’t entirely sure if he was satirizing critics or dispat ...more
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 Mosel ...more
Jay Gertzman
A terrific expose of the art-as-commerce phenomenon, a very accurate take on what Modernism can be, and another of this great writer's characters who demonstrate a kind of madness that makes a fetish of being noticed--what it takes, what it leads to. Reminds me of one of the key purposes of noir writing: a character gets what he wants, and it opens a Pandora's box that makes everyone suffer. Willeford is a great American writer and observer. I bet Russell Banks likes him.

Here's a writer who coul
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 tho ...more
Dave Russell
An art collector hires an art critic to steal a painting from a reclusive artist. It sounds like an allegory about the role of art and commerce in society. It's actually a swift, brutal dissection of a man driven by pride and ambition. A masterpiece of a crime novel.
Clever and cleverer. Willeford really twists and churns up the Modern Myth of the Famous Painter by extending the Duchampian model to its natural conclusion, while making a sour commentary on the nature of professional criticism as well.

Debierue is believable enough as the "Nihilistic Surrealist" and his biography zips by quick enough not to raise the red flags of inconsistency.

James Figueras is a miserable enough narrator that one hates him just enough to keep listening to his confession.

Having previously read Willeford books of the 50's and 80's, and being intrigued by his style(s) of both periods I notice that this book published in '71 throws me a stylistic curveball. It's still Willeford of course, but I have a feeling he's being a little more ironic in this one. The beginning of the book is basically a monologue outlining our protagonist J. Figueras', an art critic, mind and aims.
In talking about art criticism Willeford's tone is quite acidic and walks a fine line between
This astringent 'caper' novel about the cutthroat milieu of art criticism is at once a satire and an earnest embodiment of noir conventions. But that's not all, as the late night tv pitchmen used to say. The confidence game that forms the narrative arc is an extended sour joke about the commodification of art, the meretriciousness of critical discourse, and the intellectual void at the heart of post-modern aesthetics. James Figueras, art-historian-on-the-make, is an amoral heel straight out of J ...more
the 11th from willeford for me...paperback

burnt orange heresy, 1971

for the late, great jacques debierue
c. 1886-1970
memoria in aeterna

nothing exists.
if anything exists, it is incomprehensible.
if anything was comprehensible,
it would be incommunicable.

part one: nothing exists

story begins:
two hours ago the railway expressman delivered the crated, newly published international encyclopedia of fine arts to my palm beach apartment. i signed for the set, turned the thermostat of the
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 try ...more
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 ...more
I mean look, I enjoyed the last 40 or so pages. And there's some interesting subtext about how art criticism is bullshit. But this was not a fun read at all. You're basically stuck with a self-important nobody as your narrator, and nothing happens for the first 100 pages.
Willeford demonstrates the flexibility of his talents in the Burnt Orange Heresy by featuring a protagonist, Jacques Figuera, who lacks any sensibility toward art (and, really, any compassion whatsoever) yet excels in the art-world as an up and coming critic. The novel is at once a humorous indictment of modern art criticism and, like all of Willeford's novels, a self-conscious re-writing of the hardboiled genre. It reads like The Aspern Papers minus the melodrama. If anything, you should read ...more
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. ...more
This is OMG good!

The perfect mystery novel about art. Anyone who would ever consider writing a mystery about art, painters, the history of art, the sub-sub-culture of art criticism, or any given art scene in general, should pick up this book and realize that the best possible book about the subject has already been written by the late, great Charles Willeford.

This was one of the few books I have ever read twice. I usually figure life if too short to travel the same path more than once, but in
I am new to Charles Willeford and this my first of his books. I really liked this book. It was short and maybe almost more of a novella, but he packed lots of action and interest into it. Granted maybe his secondary characters could be more detailed, but I enjoyed them the way the were written. Sort of like "real life" people that you know, but realize later that you didn't know at all. :)

This story of an art critic trying to get ahead via what is probably the least prolific painter ever is a fu
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
James Hoff
Third Willeford in a few weeks and it's definitely not his best. I wouldn't say his take on the art world is uninformed but it is a little provincial and outdated. I realized while reading that I tend to read pulps to get away from the art world. That said, the setting is the art world, though the subject is classic pulp character flaws rearing their heads through professional, social ambition--classic.
Mar 03, 2013 Peter rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: crime
Unusually dull and clunky for Willeford. Way too much of this novella is bogged down in unconvincing art world nonsense. At least from this vantage point, the satire has lost its bite, to the extent it may have ever been fresh. Some appealing 70s weirdness, but nothing not done much, much better in Shark Infested Custard, where Willeford is freed from the distractions of point making.
John McDonald
As much (or more) of a satire on art, criticism, and ambition as it is a crime novel, Willeford's prose is simply masterful, and his depth and breadth of knowledge rarely found in novelists of any stripe. A classical, and classically cynical, take on the American dream, it deserves a place in the conversation of great 20th century novels.
Lil' Grogan
Sly and worth some nasty chuckles. For the most part a very dry read - I'll blame that on the academic art critic narrator. At one point, I started to see the book as essentially one long satirical joke. I don't think the ideas tossed around here will grow old: the relationship between art, the artist, the critic and the audience.
This would get five stars if I had read it more recently.
A complete re-configuration of standard noir / pulp structure & plot-- but with all the elements of the classic framework.
Everything feels normal and regular, a faithful recreation of the banal world, until it doesn't anymore ... a Maltese Penguin, perhaps.
The Murderist
The Good: A crisp, well-constructed mystery. The art world setting is unique and provides atypical motivations for the characters.

The Bad: People who are dismissive of fine art (particularly painting) will be bored to tears. The ending, while not bad, is a little unexpected.
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.
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.
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Charles Willeford was a remarkably fine, talented and prolific writer who wrote everything from poetry to crime fiction to literary criticism throughout the course of his impressively long and diverse career. His crime novels are distinguished by a mean'n'lean sense of narrative economy and an admirable dearth of sentimentality. He was born as Charles Ray Willeford III on January 2, 1919 in Little ...more
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