The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng

Orton, Thomas

Published by Counterpoint, 1999
ISBN 10: 1582430233 / ISBN 13: 9781582430232
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1582430233 Author's first book. Dj blurb by James Welch. Bookseller Inventory #

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Synopsis: Robert Armour, a Seattle photo dealer and art historian with a failing career, discovers a collection of long-lost glass negatives by a great Chinese-American photographer, and enlists the aid of art hustler Parker Lange to help him cash in on his discovery

Review: The protagonist of Thomas Orton's debut novel is running out of second chances. Once the respected owner of an exclusive photo gallery in San Francisco, Robert Armour ruined his career when he sold "newly discovered" Edward Weston erotica that turned out to be fakes. Now he's started a new life for himself in Seattle, writing articles and acting as agent in the occasional photo sale. Though his work life has taken a nosedive, Robert has found personal happiness with Diane Mays and her 8-year-old son, Budge. Then one day Judith Lund, an artist wannabe with more money than talent, asks him to evaluate four glass negatives she unearthed in the basement of an apartment building she owns, and his life is turned unexpectedly upside down. The plates turn out to be self-portraits of the famous 19th-century Chinese American landscape photographer Wilfred Eng. What's more, these four are not the only ones. Down in the basement, Robert discovers more negatives--nude portraits of a beautiful young Caucasian woman who could only be Ellen McFarland, wife of Eng's patron, and rumored to be his mistress. Suddenly, Robert has the means of salvaging his career in his hands--if he's willing to risk losing everything, including Diane, to play a dirty game:

Judith, having heard me kick her door and shout when I'd come back up from the basement, would have assumed I was after her to sign my check. Later, if she confronted me about the missing broken plate, I could claim I'd never seen it, that it was rather a hunch and some subsequent research that had led me to believe the plates were Eng's. She couldn't prove otherwise.... Everything about this plan was workable except for Diane. Eventually I'd have to tell her what I'd done, though just now I didn't like to imagine what she would think.
Thomas Orton punctuates his hero's perilous descent with passages from Wilfred Eng's writings, as well as from Ellen McFarland's diaries detailing her passionate affair with, and eventual betrayal by, Eng. As Robert's life unravels, he reluctantly recognizes certain parallels between his own actions and those of the unhappy photographer--but will he be granted yet another chance to make things right this time? Orton has crafted a tale that is part love story, part thriller, and wholly engrossing. --Alix Wilber

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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Lost Glass Plates of Wilfred Eng
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Fine
Edition: First Edition

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