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Book review: The Incomplete Artist by Philip Wyeth

Official blurb
An evening at the art gallery... The clinking of wine glasses... The hopeful thrill of a first date... But someone has murder on their mind!
All that Detective Ashley Westgard wanted was a night off—and maybe a little romance later on. But when a body is discovered during an event with dozens of wealthy art collectors in attendance, her fairy tale dream turns into a nightmare for everyone. Now Ash must put her hopes on hold, flash her police badge, and take control of the crime scene...
This is Book Two of the Ashley Westgard series, but was written as a standalone story.

My thoughts

As with art, there’s a lot to think about with The Incomplete Artist by Philip Wyeth. Simmering under the surface of artistic and literary stereotypes (a blonde bombshell detective, for example) is a multi-layered murder mystery set in a future world where automation and AI are an integral part of life.

Exploring the work of an artist and acknowledging the artistry behind public and self image. Ash Westgard works hard to appear a particular way. She’s adept at tweaking her appearance relative to the task (or interrogation) at hand to elicit the best outcomes. This look into self-image does not, however, play on lack of self-esteem, but leans more toward Ash’s artistic expression of self, which coincides with the extremes of her personal life. All of which seem to be perfectly acceptable in 2045, where gender equality is the norm and artificial intelligence systems (and robots!) are integrated into most aspects of life. Even the art world.

But is a work of art something that can be arrived at through an algorithmic investigation into people’s likes and dislikes (past and present)? Or is there something deeper, more primal at the core of a creativity that can connect and relate to people’s wants, needs and experiences? If art, through the instinct of the artist, connects needs (or thoughts and ideas) people didn’t know they were missing, how can artificial intelligence also make those connections?

Ash Westgard is about to find out as her fancy date at an exclusive gallery exhibition and auction become all business when a talented artist is murdered. Ash’s deep dive into the art world and a movement that rebels against the automation of art, threatens to overwhelm even as she unravels the evidence leading up to the artist’s last moments. The artistic process of the artist and her investigation provides Ash with a deeper understanding of her own motives and future as a detective.

Author, Philip Wyeth’s clever brushstrokes in this story add meaning to the layers as they are peeled away to reveal potential motives for the murder. They speak also to the niggling “imposter theory” that underscores many creative types. Who does one listen to, the critic or the fan? True success in art can be found in the work's ability to lead people down less travelled pathways, to draw them into an understanding where colour, lines, and light can shape worlds. Is the incomplete work, by leaving a portion of the work open to free interpretation, free imagination, therefore, even more successful?

I wasn’t expecting a murder mystery to lead me down the rabbit-hole of artistic consideration, especially one that describes its main protagonist as a “blonde bombshell”, but there you have it. How sneaky of Wyeth to wrap his future world mystery in such meaningful arty layers!

There’s no need for overthinking the story, though. The mystery is full of twists. The science fiction and world-building side of the story is so smooth the reader almost forgets they are living vicariously in the future, and the foundational premise beneath the whole is strong enough to hold up an extensive series of stories. Ash Westgard as a protagonist is as layered as the themes and I’m happy to say should be able to meet her future character development head on.

Helpful Info

Author: Philip Wyeth

Genre: Cozy mystery (set in the future – minor sci-fi components)

Print length: 216 pages (49K words)

Age range: This is an adult book but suitable for mature teens age 16+

Trigger warnings: Violent death

Amazon Rating: New book not yet rated.

Follow Philip Wyeth on YouTube

@PhilipWyeth: Twitter

@PhilipWyethWriter: Instagram and Facebook.

I received a free copy of this novel with a request for an honest review.

This review will also appear on Amazon (Australia) and Goodreads.


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