The Limits of Performance Art

The Postcard KillersThe Postcard Killers by James Patterson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What is art, anyway? It used to be the hasty drawings of people who lived in caves and wanted to leave some record of their experiences on the walls. Later, it took the form of paintings of religious scenes and portraits of and for wealthy patrons. However, in modern times, thanks to the advent of the camera, artists moved beyond accurate visual representation, progressing towards abstractions that represented ideas, movements, and experiences. During the last fifty years or so, the definition of art has grown even further, including performance art — people carrying out actions, in various states of dress, that express their ideas.

Mac and Sylvia, the killers at work in Patterson and Marklund’s thriller, send postcards to journalists in various cities in Europe, with the curious phrase: “To be or not to be in (that city’s name).” A few days later, the journalists receive a picture of the couple that the killers have slain, and then mutilated — in imitation of famous works of art. They are chased by the relentless NYPD detective Jacob Kanon (one hopes, a close literary relative of Kafka’s Josef K.). His daughter and her fiance were among the first victims, murdered in Rome while on a trip which he had given them. His guilt propels him furiously around the Continent and, finally, to L.A., and then back to Sweden for the climactic confrontation (that takes place, actually, in the parking lot of the world’s northernmost IKEA).

As all of Patterson’s books tell you, he’s been on the New York Times bestseller list more often than anyone else. His formula works — it pulls you along, entertaining with the shock value of the killers’ honeymooning feel. Their definition of “performance art” makes for an intriguing book. It would have been nice to know what Sylvia meant by “party time” about halfway through — that’s a thread that never quite gets tied off.

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