There is a chasm of difference in caliber between artists merely longing for validation and those willing to sacrifice for their craft, and Los Angeleno Max Bagge was firmly in the latter camp. The unsolved murder of his wife Sasha—juxtaposed with their son Julian opening an art gallery on Melrose—led Max to retire from thirty years of detective work and pursue oil painting. His grieving process was as tough and unrelenting as a scarlet gilia, but eventually the pain passed away and all that remained was art. His subject was wildflowers: pearly pussytoes, elegant death camas, dark-throated shooting star, hooker’s onion and hairy five eyes, among others. A bit of a wildflower himself, he recently deviated from still lifes to create his first self-portrait.
The buyer of the self-portrait, an art historian named Brian Balder, shows up at Max’s home, agitated and smelling of
sulfur. Brian claims there is a new color in the painting—a color never-before seen by the eyes of man. Max assumes Brian is mentally ill and suggests he return the painting to Julian’s gallery for a refund. Brian departs sullenly and is next seen in a photograph of his decapitated head. Hours later Julian is abducted and believed to be dead. Max, now the primary suspect in both crimes, eludes incarceration to track the killers along Route 66 to the manufacturer of the brand of paint that he uses, located in New Mexico. The operation is in the small, gang-heavy town of Española, where Max learns who murdered his wife, what happened to his son, and that there is a deadly connection between his self-portrait and an old-world magic.
Of Wildflowers and Ancient Alligators is a 75,000-word mystery with shades of fantasy.