Review: “Painter of the Heavens” by Bart Stewart

“Painter of the Heavens” by Bart Stewart

Available from: Amazon
Released on: 15 September 2013

Description:¬†“A Novel of Crime and the Heart,” Painter of the Heavens goes inside the mind of a woman as she is drawn into the bizarre fraud scheme of an eccentric man she is dating. Penny doesn’t know going in that Lyle is a con artist. His personality had seemed slightly strange from the start, but charismatic and alluring as well. Only after bonding with him does she learn that the “business plan,” which was too sensitive for him to talk about, is in fact an outrageous forgery plot. He needs an accomplice for this caper, and sees Penny as being perfect for the role.

Penny Sturdevant is in flux in her life. Just turning thirty as the decade of the 1980s turns into the ’90s, she has taken a leap into the unknown, divorcing her well-placed husband because he had become loveless, distant, and dull. Coming from a background of financial struggles, she feels the insecurities swirling around her after this big move. She dreams of turning the page, getting off of the sidetrack, and being “part of something.” Her old circle of friends, and her impoverished parents, aren’t much support for her in this time of transition.

One day, on a random whim, she stops off at an indie bookstore on the outskirts of her home town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The manager there has a hypnotic presence, with a magnetic gaze that grabs her and leads her to come back again. He is a poet (six original poems are featured in the novel) and Penny finds him more and more intriguing as she gets to know him. The point of view in the novel is all Penny’s, so we have only Lyle’s mixed signals and trippy, zen-like sayings to know what’s happening in his mind.

He seems increasingly suspicious, but we don’t know just how bad this bad guy is. One unsettling moment comes at their first date, when he asks Penny to keep it entirely their secret that they are seeing each other. He has a plausible explanation for this, all ready to go. And it turns out that he always does. He talks a very, very good game. At one point Penny reflects that everything he says seems to be both outrageous and indisputable. He is a “plague of vague,” and “like boxing with a fog bank.” But he is also sexy, and loving for her. He’s different, and interesting. They have a hot affair. (Not that this is full-on erotica.)

The novel is character-driven noir fiction that goes deep into the heads of its two lovers. It is not the familiar crime novel or police procedural. Penny and Lyle aren’t Bonnie and Clyde, but they become desperadoes in a way, when their perfect, “victimless” crime spins out on them.

A phony letter and a genuine love. Humor, pathos, danger, and two of what Dickens called “lives of quiet desperation” come together in Bart Stewart’s debut novel, Painter of the Heavens.

Review: This book is a hard one for me to figure out how to properly rate.

It proved to not really be my sort of book, but it wasn’t because it was poorly constructed. The writing was competent and the idea was interesting. I found the pacing to be a little uneven and a bit passive at points, more Tell than I usually like, and yet I find I can’t come down too hard on that because it sort of fit the psychological tenor of the story. And yet it kept me from feeling much suspense.

There were some interesting psychological angles, as mentioned, both from the characters and the crime, and aspects to the end did surprise me.

The author did well in portraying the main character as that newly-free previously-stifled woman desperate to feel things again, and placing it in the ’80s made for a backdrop I don’t usually see. (And I like that.) Lyle was also an interestingly drawn character, though written in such a way that nothing he did actually surprised me.

The puffer thing–you’ll understand when you read it–was intriguing, though there was a segment where we went outside Penny’s point of view and I wasn’t crazy about that.

So…I am left conflicted when writing the review. I can’t say I really liked it, but I can’t say I disliked it either. So, I think it’s a 3.5 Fireballs from me: better than average, and while I can’t say that I really liked it, I can see this as a book that would be really enjoyed by others.

3.5 Fireballs

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