Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm

December 31, 2013

death of an artist Plot summary (from the publisher): Silver Bay, Oregon, a small coastal resort town with nearly a thousand residents, is home to three generations of women: Marnie, the long-widowed owner of a small gift shop; Van, her granddaughter who is about to graduate medical school; and Stef, mercurial, difficult, and a brilliant artist who refuses to sell her work. When Stef discovers that Dale Oliver—the latest husband/paramour in a very long line—is trying to sell her work behind her back, she puts a stop to it and threatens to do the same to him. Shortly thereafter, Stef dies in an accident in her studio, and Dale shows up with a signed contract granting him the right to sell her work. Convinced that Stef was murdered in order to steal her artwork, Marnie and Van—grandmother and granddaughter—decide to do whatever is necessary to see that Dale doesn’t get away with any of it. This includes enlisting the help of the new stranger in town, Tony, a former New York City cop, who might be the only one who can prove it was murder and bring the killer to justice.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • Tony was an okay character for the most part. Once the investigation began, I was able to appreciate his prior experience as a NY detective and the credibility it gave to that part of the story line. If he was actually just a woodworker or whatever, the story wouldn’t have been nearly as believable for me.


  • The writing style wasn’t that great. I know Wilhelm is an established author and everything, but this just wasn’t my cup of tea.
  • I didn’t really bond with any of the female characters. I wanted to like/sympathize with at least one of them, but the author gave me no reason to do so. Marnie wasn’t heavily enough involved in the investigation, Stef was killed early on, and Van was just annoying.
  • The motive for murder seemed a bit underwhelming. Stef’s paintings were appraised at a few hundred to a few thousand dollars each, and would hardly have amounted to very much money. I understand that Dale needed whatever he could get, but come on. For the sake of keeping the story interesting and raising the stakes, why couldn’t Wilhelm have told us Stef’s paintings were worth hundreds of thousands–or even millions??
  • Everything involving Josh (Van’s young son) was boring and a waste of time.
  • Oh, God, WHY did Van and Tony have to get together at the end? There was simply no reason for it! Ugh, not even counting the 20-year age difference (which I don’t care about), the characters had ZERO chemistry and had nothing in common. What was the point????
  • A big part of the case hinged on Stef deliberately misspelling her name on the contract she signed for Dale. I thought that was an incredibly dumb, amateurish detail to put in a mystery novel. That’s the kind of “clue” I expect to find in Nancy Drew, not in a book aimed at adults.


I was looking forward to Death of an Artist because the premise was interesting and the setting seemed beautiful. But it turned out that most of the characters were a bore, the motive for murder was trifling, the execution of the plan was laughable (the killer relied on soundtrack recordings to establish his alibi), and the writing style did nothing to help the cause. I give this one 2 stars out of 5.

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