The Incomplete Artist by Philip Wyeth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ash’s elegant first date at an art auction with her new crush turns into a baffling murder investigation.
Dressed to the nines, Homicide Detective Ashley Westgard of the Jacksonville Police Corps is off-duty and enjoying an elegant first date with her newest romantic interest, wealthy patron of the arts, Thomas Templeton. She had met Tommy the week before while attending a tedious but high-profile law enforcement charity event at the invitation of the JPC’s top brass. She had seemed to have found a kindred spirit among the city’s upper crust at the event’s open bar. When he hadn’t fallen at her feet in adoration and lust as most other men did, she was intrigued.
For this initial outing, Ash found herself once again on his turf, rubbing elbows with his friends and acquaintances at the exclusive Muir Gallery. The event, hosted by the Movement 24 artistic school, was to be an evening of cocktails and conversation, culminating in an art auction of works by M-24 members. Since the revolution of 2024, more and more human activities had been relinquished to robots, including art. Movement 24 supported art created solely by human hands without the use of robots, and, naturally, there were strong opinions on both sides of the argument.
When the auction begins, the bidding quickly becomes competitive and heated with winners and losers both in the audience and among the artists. Pieces go for an eye-popping number of credits, and even Ash’s date scores the win of a sculpture he’d admired that evening. But when M-24’s most celebrated artist and vocal proponents is found murdered, Ash must exchange her strappy silver high heels for her silver detective’s shield and take control of the crime scene: one with over a hundred potential suspects.
The Incomplete Artist is author Philip Wyeth’s 2nd novel in his Ashley Westgard futuristic police detective series that debuted in 2020. In this entry, Ash has been taken out of her comfort zone of knocking heads and taking names and dropped into the realm of this future world’s high-fliers and social scions of the burgeoning Jacksonville art scene. She’s also the hopeful pursuer in her current relationship rather than the pursued. All of which leads to some introspection on her part about what she really wants out of life.
She remains justifiably suspicious of the motives of the JPC administration after the successful resolution of the case in book one. Still, I was glad to see her relationship with her immediate boss, Chief of Detectives Gabriela Paraquez, strengthen and perhaps start to solidify into something she can trust. Paraquez steps back and allows Ash to manage the complicated crime scene on her own. I liked her interactions with her other coworkers, too, as she conducted her investigation.
The murder case is baffling, with a massive number of potential suspects and witnesses on the scene when the victim is discovered. I felt how insurmountable the task of just securing the crime scene would have been, considering the number of attendees and the complication of everyone being part of the perceived elite and those that left the event before the discovery was made.
This story is quite different from the previous one. While in that one, Ash’s introduction was virtually a “smash and grab” of the reader, the tone of this story is more cerebral and thought-provoking. Ash’s investigation is also a journey through the philosophy of art with characters discussing its history and motivations, its wants and needs, past, present, and future.
The hard-riding, hard-driving, hard-drinking, and hard-partying Ashley Westgard from the debut novel has been set down among the rich and richer and is clearly out of her element. She is somewhat dazzled and seduced by these unfamiliar surroundings, almost hooked and feeling uncertain and off-kilter. And Thomas Templeton seems to be the perfect foil for Ash: their banter is delicious. But the work itself has its own magic for Ash, and she kicks the glamour to the curb and gets back to business, which is where the book shines – a character-driven, police procedural in a futuristic society.
I recommend The Incomplete Artist to those who enjoyed Ash’s debut story in Hot Ash and the Oasis Defect, readers who would like a mystery set in the world of art or with a futuristic setting.
I voluntarily reviewed this after receiving an Advanced Review Copy from Reedsy Discovery.
Read my original review on Reedsy Discovery!