Title: A Beautiful Crime
Author: Christopher Bollen
Length: 400 Pages
At a Glance: While I could have done with fewer detours into the minutiae of Venice—there is little doubt the author knows and loves her in personal ways—the suspense of how this crime drama would resolve itself, and if Nick and Clay would survive it, kept me invested to its final page.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: When Nick Brink and his boyfriend Clay Guillory meet up on the Grand Canal in Venice, they have a plan in mind—and it doesn’t involve a vacation. Nick and Clay are running away from their turbulent lives in New York City, each desperate for a happier, freer future someplace else. Their method of escape? Selling a collection of counterfeit antiques to a brash, unsuspecting American living out his retirement years in a grand palazzo. With Clay’s smarts and Nick’s charm, their scheme is sure to succeed.
As it turns out, tricking a millionaire out of money isn’t as easy as it seems, especially when Clay and Nick let greed get the best of them. As Nick falls under the spell of the city’s decrepit magic, Clay comes to terms with personal loss and the price of letting go of the past. Their future awaits, but it is built on disastrous deceits, and more than one life stands in the way of their dreams.
Review: Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime is, in essence, a long love letter to the city of Venice, Italy, which is much of this novel’s beauty as well as a healthy portion of my own issues with it. I appreciated the travelogue through Venice’s rich history, its essential contributions to art, the endangerment of that art and to the intrinsic culture of the city, as well as the desire to maintain and preserve the city’s character and legacy while also falling victim to the substantial burdens and financial assets of the tourism industry. Those details, while interesting, also came at a cost, however, bringing this crime thriller’s pace to a near halt at times and guiding readers away from the crux of the story. Still, it didn’t deter my wanting to know how the drama would play out in the end.
Freddy van der Haar quickly became a favorite character in A Beautiful Crime, as he is an integral piece to its puzzle. It’s the van der Haar name and the family’s standing as one of America’s oldest and most prominent that gained Freddy entrée to a lifestyle he could no longer afford as he neared the end of his life. A longtime fixture in a New York City that no longer exists, Freddy himself was a legacy to that not so distant hedonistic past, but a decades long drug habit coupled with a penchant for living outside his means left him debt ridden well before his death. Now, those debts ride Clay Guillory, the young man who’d become the much elder Freddy’s best friend and closest confidante as well as his beneficiary, much to the chagrin of Freddy’s oldest and most constant circle of companions who are certain Clay is a hustler who had ulterior motives. And, it’s even whispered, not so discreetly, that Clay likely murdered Freddy for the inheritance they are unaware does not exist.
A Beautiful Crime opens, however, by whetting the crime loving appetite of its readers. There is a dead body and the killer is making their getaway. The hook is that the murder hasn’t happened yet in the timeline of the story, and the journey to its instigation is a long and winding one through the crowded and boisterous walkways and canals of Venice.
Nick Brink is far from a criminal mastermind. He is, in fact, an assistant to an antiquarian, who also happens to be Nick’s boyfriend. Ari Halfon specializes in appraising silver, which offers a few interesting tidbits about Colonial American silversmithing, and he is also the reason Nick and Clay inadvertently meet. Nick doesn’t disclose to Ari the fact that he met Clay at Freddy’s memorial service, not even when Clay shows up at Wickston Antiques with a box containing a few pieces from the van der Haar collection, with the hope that they may be worth some money that would help to pay down the debts Freddy left behind. It’s those pieces of van der Haar silver that end up becoming the centerpiece of a con conceived of by Nick which will lead him and Clay to Venice, to the place where Clay and Freddy met, to the home that Clay now co-owns with Freddy’s estranged, and distasteful, sister.
A Beautiful Crime plays out in a series of moral black, white, and gray areas. It’s an exploration of the beginnings and endings of relationships, the complexities of love, the question of what is and is not justifiable, and how greed complicates matters and motivates Nick and Clay through the criminal maze they’ve constructed, some of it on the fly. Their mark, a wealthy American who, while inarguably smarmy, was not the villain I disliked nearly as much as I believe I was supposed to, appears more so as the means to Clay and Nick’s goal. Of course West was not an innocent dupe, not by any measure, but in rooting for Clay and Nick’s successful criminal plot, there was a far more reprehensible character who turns up late in the game to throw a bit of blackmail into the mix, and I found that person more a motivator for my investment in Nick and Clay’s successful exploitations than any other circumstance introduced.
The easiest way to solve a problem is to eliminate it, which stood true in a number of occasions as this plot thickened. What appeared would be simple, in actuality hid far more barbs beneath the surface than Nick and Clay had anticipated. In spite of some of my early reservations over whether or not I could, and should, champion their crime spree, I was won over in the end by the contradiction of their inarguable guilt, the legitimacy of Clay’s hardship, and that they are both fundamentally decent people who did some unconscionable things. If you enjoy a story with antiheroes who end up allowing you to set aside right from wrong and simply enjoy the ambiguity of ethical conventions, A Beautiful Crime provides.
There is no small amount of enchantment in this novel’s setting, nor were some of the questions and conundrums it inspired any less than intriguing. While I could have done with fewer detours into the minutiae of Venice—there is little doubt the author knows and loves her in personal ways—the suspense of how this crime drama would resolve itself, and if Nick and Clay would survive it, kept me invested to its final page.
You can buy A Beautiful Crime here:
[zilla_button url=”https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062853905/a-beautiful-crime/” style=”black” size=”medium” type=”round” target=”_blank”] HarperCollins [/zilla_button][zilla_button url=”https://books2read.com/A-Beautiful-Crime” style=”black” size=”medium” type=”round” target=”_blank”] Amazon & Other eTailers [/zilla_button]