“Five out of five stars for this debut novel.”
SoHo in the nineties was a world of art galleries, performance artists, painters, both the gifted and the amateurish, bars and clubs, millionaires and panhandlers, where sex was a commodity bought and sold, but not always paid for in cash.
Amanda and Phillip, Phillip and Amanda, Phil and Mandy, or sometimes just P and M, the Olivers were the epitome of patrons of the art world, a seemingly happy couple right up to the time someone put two bullets through the back of Amanda’s head, and a drunken, distraught Phillip staggered into the police station and confessed that he killed his wife. “My name is Phillip Oliver, and I believe I murdered my wife.”
Jackson Wyeth, owner of one of SoHo’s most prestigious art galleries, as well as several buildings in the area, is a friend to the Olivers, and is shocked by Amanda’s murder, but even more shocked by Phillip’s confession. “All their repeated separations and reconciliations, all their legal maneuverings, were a kind of sport. In reality, Amanda was life itself to him.”
Phillip had been lured away from his first wife, Angela, shortly after she gave birth to his own child, Melissa, by Amanda, who “taught him how to have fun.” Amanda also shrugged off Phillip’s numerous affairs “with a sharp, falsely light ‘men are animals.’”
What Amanda might not have been able to forgive was Phillip’s taking up Claudia, more than 20 years her junior, so soon after the remission of Amanda’s breast cancer. Jackson sums up Phillip’s affair with Claudia as “not one of his prettier episodes.”
Hogan, a private investigator for Phillip’s lawyer and a boyhood friend of Jackson’s, calls him asking for information about Phillip and Amanda. “Thing is, his story rambles all over the place, and half the details don’t match what the cops found at the crime scene.”
There is another reason to believe Phillip did not murder his wife: He was in California at the time, and he is dying of a brain disorder, and nothing he says can be trusted. So says Phillips’s lawyer, and he hires Hogan to prove his client is innocent.
Hogan, ex-Marine and ex-cop, is an alien in the SoHo art scene. A staunch Catholic, he finds SoHo’s culture of drugs, drink, and sex a sinkhole of debauchery, even while he is not above having an affair with Phillip’s ex-wife, Angela. Hogan needs Jackson to serve as a guide to SoHo.
Jackson, a complex man who forgave his own wife’s serial affairs up until her death from AIDS contracted during one of her many infidelities, is no saint himself. He admits to selling second-rate art at first-rate prices to Phillip. But he does know SoHo, and he knows Angela and Phillip’s young daughter, Melissa.
Much as Jackson hates to admit it, he knows Angela has a motive to murder Amanda. It was Amanda who enticed Phillip to divorce Angela, who was left with only a house, an infant daughter, and none of the millions from Phillip’s tech company, to which she should have been entitled. But would she have waited 12 years to take revenge?
When Melissa admits to having Amanda’s missing laptop computer, Jackson fears that the girl found it in her mother’s bedroom; however, Melissa insists that a disreputable videographer named Paul Morse gave it to her to hide. Morse was sleeping with Amanda and stole her computer to prevent the police finding any information about his relationship to the dead woman.
Jackson is shocked to learn first that Amanda had a lover, and second that it was the sleazy hanger-on to the art world and host of an equally sleazy late night TV show where he broadcast his videos. “. . . this particular boy toy had the measly income of a poet and the conversation of a video-store clerk. One of those pretty, brutish male-model types who look like they’ve just been smacked between the eyes with a brick.”
When Melissa tells Jackson that she and Paul email each other, and that he takes pictures of her when her mother is not present, Jackson is convinced that Paul Morse is more than just videographer. He is a sexual predator, and a damn good suspect for Amanda’s murder.
Jackson and Hogan set up a sting operation to catch Paul in the act of filming his pornographic videos of underage girls and adult males. He asks Melissa to help him, a request that enrages Angela after she discovers it.
A search of Paul’s apartment turns up the murder weapon used in Amanda’s death. Despite Paul’s claims that he didn’t kill Amanda, he is arrested and charged. If the prosecutor can’t prove Paul guilty on the murder charge, there are still the charges of child pornography.
The case is solved; Phillip, quickly succumbing to his brain disorder, can die in peace, or what passes for peace; and Melissa will inherit her father’s millions, since he failed to change his will in favor of his mistress. Best of all, Amanda’s killer is not a true resident of SoHo. He hangs out on the fringes, hides in the shadows, and is a person of no account in SoHo.
In a powerful plot twist, Amanda’s murder case is reopened, and another person is charged with the crime. Although the twist is unexpected, the explanation is logical and Jackson accepts it. Until he doesn’t.
A very dark, very noir crime novel, SoHo Sins by Richard Vine is a satisfying read for fans of the genre. Although the characters, as in most noir crime novels, are not at all warm and fuzzy, they are realistic. SoHo is itself a character—and is the strongest one all. Five out of five stars for this debut novel.