Published October 03. 2013 4:00AM
Present-day male comic novelists are generally grouped together as though they share a DNA strand.
Carl Hiaasen. Elmore Leonard. Tim Dorsey. Dan Jenkins. Christopher Buckley. Dave Barry ...
In terms of perception, Christopher Moore - equally funny - is nonetheless a few degrees separate from these other laugh-meisters, largely because his novels are so wide-ranging in scope. Rather than focus exclusively on genres like crime or sports, Moore has, over the course of 13 novels, explored all manner of topics. These include vampires ("Bloodsucking Fiends," "You Suck," "Bite Me"), the missing years of Christ ("Lamb"), a medieval court ("Fool"), the Angel of Death ("Dirty Job"), and marine biology ("Fluke").
Moore's latest, "Sacré Bleu," is another hysterical book of seemingly random origin. In it, he explores the lives of 19th-century Impressionist painters and their creepy interactions with The Colorman, a supernatural predator who utilizes the mystical properties of the color blue to seduce and haunt artists.
The idea for the novel occurred to Moore when, during his non-writing hours, he started studying great works of art. His curiosity was further piqued over the odd accounts of Vincent Van Gogh's apocryphal suicide in which he shot himself in the abdomen and then hiked a mile to a doctor.
What, Moore wondered, if the painter had been murdered? And what if it was just one such event in a sequence orchestrated by the Colorman?
Moore is out on tour celebrating the publication of the paperback edition of "Sacré Bleu" and appears Sunday at Mystic's Bank Square Books. In addition to discussing and signing the book, Moore will also tease readers with remarks about his upcoming novel "Serpent of Venice," which is a sequel to "Fool."
From his home in San Francisco last week, Moore answered some questions about his career and "Sacré Bleu."
There's an incredible amount of history and biography in "Sacré Bleu." In your research, did you ever discover a fact about one of the artists or the period itself that threatened to derail the plot?
"Constantly. The historical novels I'd written before involved characters who had huge holes in their histories, which I could fill in with my story. For instance, the Gospels really don't say what Jesus was up to for about 18 years of his life, so I was able to make up that story. With the Impressionists, historians pretty much knew what they had for breakfast every day, so I had to do a lot of timeline charting to make the plot work."
The threads of the plot get very complex as the reader starts to roll with the momentum.
"Yeah, it really tightens toward the end, with Gauguin leaving for Tahiti and with the deaths of the Van Gogh brothers and Seurat happening merely months apart. It was also wildly inconvenient that Cezanne didn't like Paris and, as such, was in Provence for most of the time period covered in the book. I actually wanted him to play a bigger part in the book because of his influence on modern art."
Where did the idea for the Colorman come from?
"I ran across the concept of the color men, real-life merchants who imported, harvested and prepared pigments and even paint and sold it to painters, traveling from town to town with a wagon full of wares ... Each painter had his own favorite 'dealer' who prepared his colors. Since I was exploring the concept of color as an inspiration, I needed to create a character that had a self-interest around the inspiration, so the Colorman was born."
The two sleuths in the book are Lucien, a fictional baker and would-be artist, and the real-life painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Why that particular artist?
"I wanted my main character to have been a contemporary of Van Gogh since the book was to open with Vincent's murder. Toulouse-Lautrec was friends with Van Gogh and studied at the same studio as Vincent, plus he was a resident of Montmartre during the time the book was set, so he was the logical choice. Also, I consider what I write to be comedy, and Toulouse-Lautrec had a great sense of silliness and the absurd."
CHRISTOPHER MOORE, 3 P.M. SUNDAY, BANK SQUARE BOOKS, 53 WEST MAIN ST., MYSTIC; FREE, BOOKS AVAILABLE FOR SALE; (860) 536-3795, BANKSQUAREBOOKS.COM.