01 June 2017

Frustration, Part I: Paint Over Passion



Frustration
Henry C. Clayton
Toronto: News Stand Library, 1949

Tony Pearce's nudes are sold in Manhattan's finest galleries, but the really big bucks come from Madison Avenue. He's the artist of choice for Joyous Brassieres, Silky Scanties, a number of girdle companies, and Sparkle deodorant. What Tony does with all that money remains a mystery to this reader. He lives alone in a flat that doubles as his studio, eats and drinks courtesy of other's expense accounts, and is a complete skinflint when it comes to paying his models. The first we encounter, Luba Belleau, "a lush brunette with glistening up-thrust breasts and sleek thighs," is a favourite. One evening, because he's cheap, he hitches a ride with an agency art director to a party being held at a sprawling mansion on Long Island Sound. More free booze and eats. As in a fantasy – mine at twenty – he's approached by a tall, beautiful woman in an evening gown: "Well, fancy meeting you here."

Tony pretends to recognize her, as one does. Fortunately, before things get too awkward, the beauty drops a clue.
"Someday, Tony, you must paint me like this. I've always wanted to be be painted in something swish." She swirled around in front of him, smiling provocatively, and the movement jolted his brain. Good heavens, it was Luba!
     He said lightly, "I hardly knew you with your clothes on."
They walk along the beach and have sex, I guess:
Her resilient body pressed against him demandingly until the moon rocked in the star-studded dome overhead
     Then Luba went limp against him and whispered into his chest, "Oh Tony!"
Whatdoya think? Did they do it? If Tony had gone limp I'd be more certain.

The morning after, Luba arrives at the studio ready for more, but Tony, ever the professional, is intent on continuing work on her portrait. "It was like a douche of cold water." As Friday approaches, Luba suggests a dirty weekend in the Poconos. Tony agrees, and although he does feel a bit bad about it all – Luba is a married woman – they have a great Saturday together. Things cool down that evening when Luba gets all naked and lies down on top of the bed.
The bathroom door opened and Tony entered in his pyjamas. He walked over and gazed down at her for a moment, then exclaimed, "God, Luba, but you are beautiful!"
     He stepped back a pace and mused, "There's something radiant about you – something ethereal."
     Her eyes were black pools. She murmured happily, "You like me, Tony?"
     Tony shook his head admiringly, "Damn it, this is terrific." He turned and opened his bag, fumbling around anxiously.
     "What are you looking for, darling?" Luba smiled in expectation.
     "Oh," said Tony, "I'm looking for my sketching pad."
     "Your what?" Luba raised up on one elbow.
     "It's okay, I've found it."
Luba bursts into tears and accuses Tony of being a "pansy". Frankly, I was beginning to wonder if the man didn't have some sort of clothing fetish; he'd never so much as touched her unless she was dressed. And what's with the PJs?

Luba takes off in the rented car, leaving Tony to find a way back to New York. Two days later, her strangled body is fished out of the East River.


Tony has an alibi, having attended a small get-together hosted by fellow artist and brand new friend Eileen Henley. The same alibi proves handy when Luba's husband is also found murdered.

As mysteries go, Frustration is... well, frustrating. Lieutenant O'Hara's police investigation is slowed because Tony lies and neglects to pass on key information. The artist tries to solve the murder himself, and author Clayton cheats by having Tony focus exclusively on two men who prove to be innocent. Ultimately, the murderer is revealed only when caught trying to kill again, leaving Tony to put all the pieces together as O'Hara nods in agreement.

Frustrating, but not without some value. In fact, I recommend this very bad novel. There's a specific reason why, and so much to write in this regard (and so much that is spoiler) that I'm going to save it for Monday. You know, after the weekend.

Keep it clean, everyone.

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