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The Burnt Orange Heresy

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  643 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews
A new paperback edition of the neo-noir novel book critics have called Willeford's best. Fast-talking, backstabbing, womanizing art critic Jacques Figueras will do anything - blackmail, burglary, fencing, assassination - to further his career. Crossing the art world with the underworld, Willeford expands his noir palette to include hues of sunny Florida and weird tints of ...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published December 20th 1999 by Carroll & Graf (first published 1971)
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Nov 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Yasemin Şahin
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: yabancı-roman
Kitap sanat eleştirmeni olduğunu söyleyen ve hayatını gayet sanat kaygısı içerisinde idame ettiren bir adamın hayatını anlatırken, Ayrıntı Yayınları'nın kara ayrıntı dizisine yakışır şekilde yavaş yavaş gerilimin tırmandığı ve hırsların ön plana çıktığı bir seyre dönüşür.

"Hayatının dörtte üçünü dünyadan uzaklaşıp kabuğuna çekilerek geçirmiş her sanatçı ya sürrealisttir ya da deli."
"Üç ressam bir kahvede buluşup geceyarısına kadar dostça tartıştıktan sonra bir hizip kurmaya karar veriyor, geceni
Jul 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Aug 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery-thriller
Willeford is a talented writer but the first 2/3rds of the book sort of bored me. I get the appeal of art and art criticism but I don't have much interest in reading books about it, even short ones like this.

But that final 1/ Once things get set in motion, Willeford's set up about what nihilistic surrealism is and how it functions with regards to the story and what he's trying to say as an author pays off in an enormous way, right up to the thrilling conclusion. I will be thinking abo
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library_book
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
Dec 04, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels, hardboiled
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
Oliver Wood
May 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
I felt a little foolish about halfway thru because I was a little bored and expecting more treacherous characters and more mystery... hey! the protagonist is an art critic. so there is as much detail of art and philosophy as a clever safe cracker or jewel thief would share. the tension was remarkable when you break down the basic plot. exciting and I'm looking forward to more Willeford.
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is my first exposure to Charles Willeford's work and what I read is not exactly a crime novel. Oh, there's a murder victim here, arson, theft. But what it is is a take on the art world: critics, artists, collectors, and their sphere of existence.

Jacques Figueras is the art critic pushed into stealing from a reclusive painter.

First Willeford, but not likely my last.
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.
Jan 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: willeford
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
Jock Crocodile
Mar 10, 2017 rated it liked it
In this book Charles Willeford takes us into the world of Art Criticism. His protagonist, James Figueras, is a fairly accomplished, ambition young art critic out to make a name for himself. The story is fairly absurd, (Figueras becoming an authority on the "Worlds Greatest Living Artist" an artist who has no work to speak of!) It could be read as a critique on the ridiculousness of Modern Art (or some modern art "movements"), and more specifically Art Critiscim. IMHO it's not up there with his t ...more
Brandon Montgomery
As other reviewers have pointed out, most of this book is back story on a fictional artist and conceited, grating commentary on art criticism. There are elements of humor here and there - The whole thing feels like hyperbole, more so than other novels of this type - so much so that you sometimes find yourself wondering if Willeford is just writing a satire of noir novels. (The famous French Série Noire makes an appearance here, as if to remind you.)

All of that aside, I think the real point is
Michael Ritchie
Jun 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Crime novel (not a mystery or detective novel) centered on an art critic, Figueras, who sees a chance for a big boost in reputation when he gets the opportunity to interview a reclusive and eccentric French artist who doesn't allow his work to be exhibited--though he has allowed individuals access now and then. The catch: the guy who gets him access to the artist wants Figueras to steal a painting for him. Frankly, the crime aspect of this is the least interesting part. What kept me reading was ...more
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was ok
Let down by this one, after having it hyped up as Willeford's best. Far too much inside baseball of the art world, and no real momentum until the latter part of the book. Rampant misogyny from multiple characters was also a bit of an issue.
Matt Raymond
Dec 01, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-books
My coworker found this book, the only library copy of it in the State of Massachusetts, and loved it. The plot, about art critic James Figueras who sets out to meet and criticize the work of a mysterious artist told in a detective noir style, sounded interesting enough. It’s a short 190 pages, and I’ve always wanted to read a Charles Willeford book. So I read it, waited for something to happen, and nothing does. It’s not easy for me to hate things, but this books is the easiest to hate. It’s beg ...more
Oct 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Patrick McCoy
Dec 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: crime-noir
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
Jay Gertzman
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 17, 2013 added it
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
Jan 20, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: mystery
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
Jan 06, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Jesse Wiedel
May 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
As an artist and crime fiction fan, I was surprised and excited to read a crime novel about art criticism. The author demonstrates knowledge of art history and painting in the book, so it was not as comical as I expected in that regard. Another book by Willeford, "The Pick Up", was also about an artist. His books are great at sucking you in to the neurotic psyche of the narrator, and also his descriptions of places and the goofy fashion habits of his people are so vivid. The only drawback in thi ...more
Sep 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 29, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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.

Oct 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
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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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