Tartan noir hobnobs with the art world in The Goldenacre, Philip Miller's clever, complex and improbably touching thriller set in Edinburgh, a city whose reputation for quiet elegance and relative calm gets quite a workout.
Shona Sandison, senior reporter for the Edinburgh Post, receives a tip: a government-employed art curator named Thomas Tallis is in town on a job for the Public Gallery, having left London's Civic Gallery on such bad terms that he had to sign a nondisclosure agreement. Tallis piques Sandison's interest, although she's already working on a story: a local painter has just had his head fatally bashed in. Chapters switch between the perspectives of Sandison and Tallis, who is in Edinburgh to authenticate a painting said to be by renowned (and real-life) Scottish artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Tallis informs a colleague: "I am here for a simple task, to approve The Goldenacre. Then I will be gone." But the hovering presence of a white car and the grotesque contents of a parcel he receives suggest that his job won't be a picnic.
Miller (The Blue Horse; All the Galaxies) judiciously waits to bring Tallis's and Sandison's story strands together. Their alternating chapters are tonal point-counterpoints between the morose curator and the battle-hardened reporter, whose rat-a-tat exchanges with her outmatched coworkers call to mind a screwball comedy. As The Goldenacre gradually reveals Sandison's and Tallis's histories, it exposes the darker side of a changing Edinburgh, which, reasonably enough, Tallis comes to think of as "city of secrets." --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer