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The Burnt Orange Heresy

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  972 ratings  ·  106 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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Average rating 3.85  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
”The villa on the Riviera had been an anonymous gift to the artist, and he had accepted it in the spirit in which it was offered. No strings attached. He wasn’t well-to-do, but the sale of his Montmartre shop would take care of his expenses for several months. The Paris Soir reporter then asked the obvious question. ‘If you refuse to exhibit or to sell your paintings, how will you live?

‘That,’ Debierue replied, ‘isn’t my concern. An artist has too much work to do to worry about such matters.’ Wi
Carla Remy
Dec 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
From 1971
This is a remarkable book. All about art history. With a fictional artist, Debierue, and his fictional movement, Nihilistic Surrealism. This novel is so completely entertaining in every detail, that I forgot to expect there to be a murder. There is.
Willeford wrote many books,from the 1950s to the 1980s. They are rarely the same.
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
Dave Schaafsma
“Never let a thing’s worth obscure its value”--Cassidy, a prominent Manhattan art dealer

Having read the four novels comprising the whole series of Charles Willeford’s Hoke Mosely eighties Miami cop series, I thought I would check this out, because I heard it might be his best, I heard it was very different, more noir and perhaps harkening back to his early roots in pulpy noir, and I knew there was a film loosely based on it featuring Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Debicki, Claes Bang, and.. . . Mi
Stephen Goldenberg
Apr 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I read Charles Willeford’s four Hoke Mosely novels many years ago and thought they were among the best crime novels I’d ever read and, in the case of ‘Sideswipe ‘ simply one of the best novels. So, I decided to catch up with some of his other books. This one was interesting but somewhat disappointing after his detective novels. It’s about a young art critic and his obsession with a mysterious French avant-garde painter. Most of the book consists of conversations about art and artistic movements. ...more
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 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pechorins, uxoricide
James Figueras is to modern art criticism as Frank Mansfield is to cockfighting.

But this is not just a story of a shrewd selfish fanatic. This is a suspenseful spoof. Somewhere in Part 1, readers will begin to get the joke (view spoiler). But Willeford remains deadpan throughout. I think Willeford might have been in favor of the Entartete Kunst exhibition.
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
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
Aug 10, 2019 rated it liked it
An odd book. Jacques Figueras is an art critic willing to do pretty much anything to rise in the art world. When he gets a chance to interview a notoriously reclusive painter (so long as he can steal of his painting), he more than jumps at the chance, but that interview doesn't turn out quick like he though it would, and some strange events follow it. Could have been good, though I was not very interested in the parts of the book about this painter's history. You can see where it's going, but st ...more
Dec 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
eh. Willeford sounded intriguing from some review I stumbled upon, and this was described as "his best book." I hope not. ...more
Sep 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was my first Charles Willeford book and because of this book, he will be included as one of my favorite mystery and thriller authors for writing this neo-noir femme fatale murder mystery set in the art world, that is now a major motion picture by Sony Pictures Classics.

The Burnt Orange Heresy is a classic book about greed, ambition and obsession - a play on the human psyche on what motivates people to risk it all only to gain power, fame, and fortune. This is a quick read that is written i
Dave Newman
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this years ago and loved it, as I do most of the Willeford I've read. They finally made it into a film, which had been in pre-production for years. The film was very average, save for Mick Jagger who was excellent as a creepy art dealer, and made me think I'd mis-remembered the plot of the book. I hadn't. The book is still a brilliant character study with keen insights into crime and the art world, and the writing is some of Willeford's best. If you're interested in the consequences of su ...more
Not really a four star masterpiece in all respects, maybe, but nonetheless a very interesting novel for my particular tastes, for this turned out to be a Jamesian artist tale filtered through the language and outlook of 50s American pulp literature — the genre Willeford started out in. The story can easily be read as a combination of Henry James’ The Aspern Papers and The Figure in the Carpet. After all, the narrator protagonist is not called James (actually Jaime) Figueras for nothing. He’s a c ...more
Mar 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
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 08, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a mystery as much as a savage satirical attack on the modern art business, art criticism, modern art movements.

Fun to read.
Not my favorite Willeford novel--it feels more like a crime caper than a gritty noir--but it definitely reflects his uniquely eccentric voice and worldview.
Sep 21, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, mystery, movie, noir
Disappointing. Short, only 167 pages; NOTHING HAPPENS for the first 110 or so pages aside from some multi-page monologues about contemporary art theory and philosophy. The suspense doesn't build. There is no suspense. The last 50 or so pages switch gears, something happens, and the last 20 pages were at least interesting. I know, lots of five star reviews for this. I just didn't get it.

The movie (which I have not seen) came out earlier this year (2020) with a cast that includes Mick Jagger and D
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
May 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars loved all of this. Just read kirk’s review; it explains all in a perfect way. I think it helps if you’re an artist or an art lover which is the only reason I knocked off a half a star, I am both of those but even so he got a little crazy detailed..but still, it just takes you away into another time, place and mind.
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 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
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.
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. ...more
Mar 10, 2020 rated it it was ok
I’ve enjoyed many of Charles Willeford’s books (including the great Hoke Mosley series), so I was disappointed that I didn’t like this one. Maybe it was just over my head, but I was restless reading through what seemed like endless trivial dialogue until the story picked up during Part Three of the novel. I would reread some of Willeford’s other books but once with this was enough for me.
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. ...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. ...more
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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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