The Vermilion Pursuit: A Marco Fontana Mystery – Joseph R.G. DeMarco (Jade Mountain Books)

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It’s been seven years since we last saw Marco Fontana, and it’s good to have him and Olga and the boys from StripGuyz back. This time, Fontana is taking on the not-so-stuffy world of fine art as he races against the lead detective on the case to prove his uncle Luciano did not murder a colleague. As usual, DeMarco pulls out all the stops in this solid, well thought out entry to the Fontana mystery series.

Fontana’s uncle, Luciano Sforza, is in town with a panel of art critics and restoration experts tasked with authenticating a previously unknown Botticelli. It might be real, or it could be a fake perpetuated by the infamous forger Vermilion. Before the committee can make their decision, however, one of its more contentious members is found dead, with Sforza standing over the body. Detective Baldwin is certain the case is open and shut, but Fontana has other ideas. He has to prove his uncle’s innocence before Baldwin makes an arrest.

Among DeMarco’s many strengths is his ability to juggle a large number of characters without losing the thread of the mystery or confusing the reader. There are at least six on the committee alone, plus various assistants and gallery owners–and that’s just the main plot. We also have secretary Olga, Fontana’s mother (Luciano’s sister), StripGuyz drama, the policemen, security guards, and Fontana’s on again/off again open relationship with boyfriend Sean. Yet the plot never bogs down or feels crowded. There’s a lot going on, to be sure, but DeMarco never drops the balls. And though the book is longish, it’s so well-paced you don’t notice.

But what DeMarco does best here is crack the veneers of the effete and oh-so-proper art experts, exposing the real motivations behind their high-minded ethics. To no one’s particular surprise, they are as base as the rest of us–greed, ambition, and sex often taking priority over their profession. This isn’t news, of course, but DeMarco seems to take great delight in laying these predelictions bare. And it’s most fun to watch.

The ending is also quite satisfactory. You see about three quarters of the way through how a couple of the plot pieces will fit together, but the identity of the murderer remains a mystery until just before the reveal. The process of elimination is artfully accomplished, and DeMarco leaves no loose ends.

So, The Vermilion Pursuit is entirely successful. It’s a great standalone, as are the others in this series, but if you read this, I can just about guarantee you’ll want them as well. Let’s hope it’s not another seven years before the next.

JW

© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler

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