Max Sees Red

Martha King


ISBN 978-1-949966-06-0      256 pages        $18.00


A story like this calls for great delicacy in plotting... and it is here that King shines. She puts together a set of believable, linked encounters that keep him unearthing new strands of the case, which draw him further along....The dilemma of what is going to happen to Sydney [the mixed-race child of the murdered woman] causes as much soul searching in the community as did the death. This strand of the book gives it an emotional weight, a gravitas, that makes it – if you haven’t figured this out already-- not a light entertainment but a thoughtful, searching look at what holds together and pulls apart community ties.

     Jim Feast  in Sensitive Skin

Max isn’t a detective, just a guy whose friends get in very bad trouble. Propelled by gruff affection, loyalty and what used to be called existential dread,  Max the painter swerves over a New York City/Hudson Valley landscape that is sharply, evocatively and poetically notated by Martha King.  There’s no nostalgia or tie –the- bow cheer here, just essentially and deeply seen characters crashing into each other within the intersecting wheels of 70s New York within a story that -like life- isn’t clearly demarcated or resolved. Like some art, it keeps getting messier. “The other way was the wide lens, to look at…the whole of the scene the way you’d look at a painting. Where did it move? Where were the shapes?” Max wonders and I think that’s exactly how King leads us into and out of this troubling, suspenseful tale.

     Kimberly Lyons, poet and author of Approximately Near

Martha King’s novel, Max Sees Red, is a gripping thriller, with fully developed characters, authentic American dialogue that rings true to the ear, a complex narrative, with many sub-plots, and is compulsively readable. But it is also a poet’s book....King is a essentially a minimalist: each word, each descriptive sentence or piece of dialogue is carefully measured, for sound and effect and is essential; there’s no ornamentation or “clever” sentences.....The novel deals with issues of gender, race, and class, themes running throughout her work....There is also humor throughout and King is at her funniest when poking fun at the art world and the world of the academy.

     Peter Valente

     Excerpted from a long essay, "Am I Saved Yet Sister? Is it Morning?" in Talisman Journal #48  (winter 2021),

      in which Valente considers the whole of King's work.


I've long been a fan of Martha Winston King's work in memoir – "Outside/Inside: Just outside the art world's inside," published two years ago, is indispensable – so I was excited to read her first novel. I'm glad I saved it for my summer break, because it's the perfect summer read: slim and compact, effervescent with wit and period detail, with a neat whodunit at the center. The book is set in the 1970s New York art and publishing worlds, and the wild cast of characters poke gentle fun at those worlds while bringing them to vivid life. The title character, Max Birdwhistle, is a mid-career painter who gets caught up in a murder in New York's Hudson Valley – winds up by chance in the role of an amateur shamus, a Philip Marlowe if Marlowe were more of an irascible bohemian. I look forward to reading more about Max but also about his ever-supportive wife Betsy – I'd love to see a sequel with her in the shamus role. Whatever Max and Shirley do, though, I'll read it.

     Michael Seth Stewart

I love Martha King’s astutely roving eyes & ears, what & who she notices, how deftly she weaves perceptive commentary in & out of encounters, & especially how accurately she pegs the now faint smells of 1970s NYC’s low-key squalor crisscrossed by the ambitions & conflicts of its “aht” world. The book paces like a great film script, which makes this an absorbing page turner.     Patrick Brennan

The way King handles the art gallery banter, the implicit critique of it, reminded me of Gilbert Sorrentino’s satires of the 70’s NYC literary and art world – both Sorrentino and King have great eyes and ears for detail, and know how to wield it!

                                      Andrew Levy

“Always remember,” Robby intoned solemnly, “everyone’s scared of an artist. You might be a quack or you might not and not a single one of them really knows how to tell.  It’s all done with mirrors.  That’s why sometimes it pays to be crazy.”

An American thriller. New York City's and upstate Hudson Valley's inhabitants at constant odds with one another... old rural families, wealthy art types, publishers, artists, struggling writers, and murders old and new.

       Lynn Honesto, former sheriff of Gila County, Arizona

Bonnie Finberg

Martha King has never lived in the Hudson Valley or in SoHo where this story takes place. By the late 1970s, the time of this story, she was a matron in Brooklyn and with her mate, the artist Basil King, a parent of two half-grown daughters. She has written poetry, memoir, and short stories as well as writing for her former employers, Poets & Writers, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. This is her first novel.


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