While Hammer is unfailingly entertaining it suffers from a nagging sense of disconnection ... Hammer has the smoothness of a good cable drama. It’s harmless fun, but all the discussion of groundbreaking artistic visionaries makes me wonder whether, in his heart of hearts, Mr. Reed aspires to something more original.
Joe Mungo Reed’s Hammer has a lot to say about the role that art plays in the world at large ... The novel gains lamentable timeliness from a late plot twist involving Ukrainian independence and Vladimir Putin’s 2014 invasion of Crimea, but Reed sensitively handles those issues while steadily raveling his characters’ increasingly disparate lives into an intricate look at politics, morality and coming to terms with one’s past.
... there’s a lot of information and interplay to get through before the plot well and truly thickens ... On second thought: The information is the action — it is the essence of Reed’s style as well as his source of tension. What happens before the hammer comes down, be it an auctioneer’s gavel or a tyrant’s order? ... a many-layered slow-burn of a novel that won’t be to every reader’s taste. Not only does the story wend its way down a rambling country lane, but the road is bordered with giant hedgerows. Like would-be gawkers riding past Bel-Air estates, characters and readers alike are left desperate to know what unattainable riches lie beyond ... a tragedy of manners, should such a thing exist. It is also a timely document of a world in which corruption and sincerity, lofty intentions and craven pursuits, can be impossible even for the perpetrators to tell apart.
Reed casts his appraising eye on the equally cutthroat worlds of modern art and Russian politics in this well-observed if uneven outing ... The plot simmers too long, muting the impact of the characters’ betrayals and machinations, but Reed is consistently excellent in his takes on art, money, and the ruthlessness of the auction house business ... In the end this cool, restrained work doesn’t quite reach the heat of the art market it depicts.
Reed’s riveting second novel is at once a romance, a geopolitical thriller, a meditation on art, and an investigation of the moral compromises that everyone makes in the gravitational presence of wealth. Reed does a masterful job of complicating his characters’ motivations ... Richly textured, compulsively readable, and brilliant throughout.