Portrait painting is not Paul Zacher’s favorite art form, but it’s a living. And how many people can comfortably get by on what they make painting? The problem is that a good portrait involves getting close to your subject, but suppose the subject is someone you’d rather avoid?
Paul Zacher is not easily deceived by appearances, since they are, in fact, his stock-in-trade. He knows they exist in layers, like a series of masks. One lies beneath another. His task is to understand which ones to use as he paints. Which ones tell the real story of his subject, and when should he also rely on what he already knows about this person sitting in his studio. Is a person’s history a part of this process? Or should Zacher confine himself to the current image before him?
The question becomes especially tricky when the portrait subject is a man everyone knows, a former vice president of the United States, a man who was forced to resign in disgrace. A man also forced to make restitution in order to avoid a stint in prison.
Paul Zacher’s gaze probes the elegant bearing, the hooded eyes, the supercilious smile. This is a man who remembers only one thing: that he was once and for several years just a heartbeat away from being the most powerful man in the world. He prefers to brush the rest aside––as if it was all rumor and hearsay.
The vice president has settled in San Miguel de Allende, leasing an important eighteenth century mansion. Some think he has decided to cross the border in order to retire from public life, away from the eye of the media. The source of his income is not clear. Paul Zacher is not entirely able to mask his distaste for this project, and when the vice president is murdered at an elegant dinner party that Zacher is also attending, when the murder weapon is an artist’s paintbrush sharpened to a fine point and driven through the disgraced politician’s ear deep into his brain, all eyes turn to Paul Zacher, the portrait painter, the principal of the Zacher Agency. He is known to be a man with an interest in crime as well as wet paint, and he has had some close and recent experience with murder.
The task of the Zacher Agency becomes clear: to save its leader from arrest as a political assassin. But could is this be a case that fits the dictum of the law profession, he who defends himself has a fool for a client?
BRUSHWORK is the third of twelve Paul Zacher mysteries.