Category Archives: Elizabeth Spann Craig

The Cover Sometimes Makes the Book*

Book Back CoversI think we’d all agree that the quality of a novel has little to do with its cover. Speaking for myself, I’ve read plenty of unforgettable novels that didn’t have remarkable covers, and my share of completely forgettable novels with gorgeous covers. And yet, people spend a great deal of time and effort designing covers. There are cover reveals when books are released, and quite a lot of animated discussion about what should be on those covers when books are being planned.

There are probably several reasons for this. One is that, especially in today’s crowded market, it’s important to get people’s attention quickly. And that often means a great cover. A cover also can serve as a kind of shorthand to tell people about the novel. For instance, have a look at this cover of Will Thomas’ Fatal Enquiry.

 

Fatal Enquiry

It tells you right away that the story takes place in London. The man’s clothes also tell you that the novel takes place in the past.

This is the cover of Sam Hilliard’s The Last Track.

 

Last Track

Just one look at it tells you that the story takes place in a rural area. And the way the man on the cover is dressed tells you right away that the story takes place in modern times. As it turns out, both things are true.

But covers do more than just give a ‘snapshot’ of what’s inside. They also ‘brand’ a novel. Here, for instance is my edition of Agatha Christie’s Mrs. McGinty’s Dead (Yes, I know, it’s been much loved. I had it as a gift when I was a teenager, and no, I’m not saying how long ago that was).

 

Mrs McGinty

If you notice, there’s a figure of Hercule Poirot on the cover. Christie’s novels have of course come out in dozens of different editions. Each one has some way of ‘branding’ it as a Christie novel.

You can see that sort of ‘branding’ with this cover of Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig) Delicious and Suspicious.

 

Delicious and Suspicious

If you look at the top, it’s ‘branded’ as part of her Memphis Barbecue series. And that can be very effective in getting readers interested. Fans know to look for that little ‘brand mark’ when they’re looking for a Riley Adams novel, even if they can’t recall the title they want.

A cover can also give readers a sense of the sort of crime fiction novel they’re considering. For instance, here’s the cover of Lindy Cameron’s Redback.

 

Redback

The cover tells you right away that this is probably not a light, cosy read. And it’s not. The cover also has a ‘thrillerish’ sort of feel to it, and that’s exactly what this novel is. It involves terrorism, international intrigue, and a crack Australian rescue team that goes up against them. A-hem, Ms. Cameron – still waiting for the next Team Redback novel…..

Now have a look at the cover of James W. Fuerst’s Huge.

 

Huge

It’s bright red, so it’s attention-getting. But it doesn’t suggest a lot of violence or a fast ‘thriller’ pace. And actually, this novel has neither.

Some people pay particularly close attention to covers. For instance, collectors of books with certain kinds of covers, or from certain eras, look for the sort of cover they want. Others only pay attention to a cover if it’s particularly off-putting. Either way, covers are a really interesting aspect of the crime fiction novel, even if they don’t always tell you whether a novel is of high quality.

And…speaking of covers, here’s the cover of Patti Abbott’s forthcoming release, Concrete Angel.

 

CONCRETE ANGEL

You can tell just by looking that it’s got a theme of someone who’s trapped in a tragic situation. And that’s exactly what the novel is about. It’s coming out in mid-2015, and I’m looking forward to it!

What you do think of this whole issue of covers? Do you pay attention to them? Do you collect books from a certain era because of the cover? Do you look for a certain cover artist’s work? If you’re a writer, what are your thoughts on covers for your books?
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Styx’s Miss America.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Elizabeth Spann Craig, James W. Fuerst, Patti Abbott, Riley Adams, Sam Hilliard, Will Thomas

Heard it From a Friend Who Heard it From a Friend Who…

WordofMouthvery interesting post on Elizabeth Spann Craig’s excellent blog has got me thinking about how we learn about authors and new books coming out. She makes the point (and she’s right) that the way we talk to each other about books has changed.

It used to be that book lovers would share their finds at book clubs, perhaps in bookshops themselves or sometimes with friends and family members. Those things do still happen. But today, there are more ways to share books than ever before. So the meaning of ‘word of mouth’ has changed.

I’ll just offer two examples; I’m sure you’ll be able to think of lots more than I could. The Internet has made it possible for readers to find out about new books both from large online companies (you know the one I mean) and from publishers themselves. This means that smaller publishers can get a sense of what readers want. And it means that readers can discover books they might not have noticed in brick-and-mortar bookshops.

There’s also social media. Speaking strictly for myself, I’ve discovered some truly fine crime fiction through book blogs I trust – crime fiction I would never have heard of had it not been for blogging. For instance, I’ve become a fan of the work of Angela Savage, Geoffrey McGeachin, Anthony Bidulka and of course Elizabeth Spann Craig. I could give a long list of other examples too. And I would never have ‘met’ these particular authors if it weren’t for blogs.

But ‘word of mouth’ is much more than blogs. It’s also in places such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social networks. Dozens and dozens of posts and tweets mention this or that author, this or that release and this or that great new book. In a lot of ways, this new kind of ‘word of mouth’ has made it more possible than ever for authors who aren’t exactly household names to get their work out there. That is, if the author is comfortable with social media and is willing to make the time and do the work to use it as the powerful tool it can be. And it makes it more possible than ever for readers to discover a deep and rich treasure trove of authors and books. All of this is very good for the genre. The more good books out there, the better for the genre. The more readers interested in those books, the better for the genre. And it keeps busy crime writers everywhere very happy. ;-)

But here’s the thing. That much word of mouth can also have drawbacks. One of them is ‘noise.’ Let me explain what I mean. In her post, Spann Craig mentions 50 Shades of…well, you know what I mean, as an example of a book that got a huge amount of attention. As the saying goes, it went viral. That also happened with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I’m not going to debate the merits of that particular series, other than to suggest that once something like that does ‘go viral,’ there’s a great deal of pressure – call it peer pressure if you want to – to read, review and even enjoy the newest sensation. It’s everywhere in bookstores, it’s everywhere on reviews and so on. Are those ‘sensations’ good books? Some are. Some aren’t. But what happens is that that huge flurry of attention could well mean that other excellent books don’t get any.

That sort of ‘noise’ also means that there’s a great deal of pressure on other crime writers to ‘do what’s worked.’ If you’re a publisher or agent, that makes sense. A certain book happened to catch on (whether it’s a good book or not) and made a lot of money. Why wouldn’t a publisher or agent want to repeat that success? So it’s not surprising that what sometimes happens is that these folks begin to look for the same kind of thing from other writers. Of course this doesn’t happen in every case. But I wonder whether the success – the ‘going viral’ – of one or another book or series contributes to what can end up being ‘cookie cutter’ plots, characters and so on. After all, if this or that or the other kind of protagonist, sort of plot or kind of killer made a big hit for one author, why wouldn’t it be for another? Again, I’m absolutely not saying this happens in every case. I do think it may put a lot of pressure on authors though, unless they already have had some success of their own.

Another drawback of this new ‘word of mouth’ is that it creates an awful lot of stimulus for readers. We all make jokes about our TBR lists (no, I’m not telling you how many books are on mine!). But it’s no joke when one’s trying to sift through the myriad blogs, online reviews, e-zines and postings to choose something to read. No-one has the time to read all of the excerpts and reviews and make a fully informed choice. So we find ways to streamline the process. We go to only a small number of trusted blogs. Or we stick with a small number of authors we’ve discovered. Or we only read books that are on award shortlists. Or…or… This means there are a lot of talented authors out there whose work we may never read.

It’s at least as big a challenge if you’re a crime writer. No matter how talented you are, it’s harder than ever to stand out from the crowd, as the saying goes, unless by some fluke you’ve written something that gets a lot of attention. Publishers know how hard it is to get people to read an ‘unknown’s’ work, so lots of them don’t accept such manuscripts. And they have very high expectations (for very logical reasons) for sales. Those expectations are hard to meet no matter how skilled a writer one is when there are so many other choices. And independent publishers, who may have more options when it comes to choosing authors, have to work all the harder to get ‘their’ authors’ work in people’s hands. What’s more, even if a crime writer does get a contract from a publisher, there’s no guarantee of any kind of long-term relationship. A lot of authors of my acquaintance don’t get more than 2- or 3-book contracts, even if they’ve had solid sales.

Does this mean I think that the new ‘word of mouth’ is a bad thing? Absolutely not! I think having more choices out there is very, very good for the genre. As a reader, I may be bewildered by the sheer number of new novels available, and I may sometimes be disheartened by the long list of books I’ll never have the time to read. I may occasionally have to repair dents in my wall made by throwing a book that was a waste of my time and money. But I want all of those choices. I’m glad of the array of books available to me, both in paper and electronic form. I’d hate my reading options to be limited.

As a crime writer, I get more than disheartened (Please. Don’t ask.) when I think about how difficult it is to get people to read my novels and to get a publisher interested in publishing the ones that aren’t out yet. It’s sometimes very hard to make the time and expend the energy to keep up an online presence that will (hopefully) get people’s attention in a non-obnoxious way. And all of these things happen in part because there are a lot of other crime writers out there, some of them far more talented than I will ever be. So readers have a lot of options to choose from, and that means I have to work very, very hard to be heard. But that’s not a bad thing. Hard work makes me a better writer (I hope!). And the new ‘word of mouth’ means that I learn from what successful folks are doing. I’m getting better because of what I’ve seen and read. And that’s good for me and good for my writing.

In the end, the new ‘word of mouth’ is like a lot of other new things. It’s neither all good nor all bad. It takes adjustment, it brings on a lot of different challenges, and it’s got different potential payoffs. And whether we like it not, as readers and as writers, it’s something that seems to be here.

What do you think about all of this? How do you as a reader sort through all of today’s ‘word of mouth’ to find authors and books to love? If you’re a writer, how do you make today’s ‘word of mouth’ work for you?

Thanks, Elizabeth, for the inspiration!
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from REO Speedwagon’s Take it on the Run.

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Filed under Angela Savage, Anthony Bidulka, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Geoffrey McGeachin

I See Flags, I Hear Bells*

IPageantsn many small towns (and actually, some not-very-small towns!), pageants are a way to bring people together, to provide entertainment and to show off local (and sometimes not-so-local) talent. It can all be a lot of fun and it does bring in business. But if you think about it, pageants can also bring trouble. There’s conflict and jealousy among participants and of course, there’s the fact that all sorts of people are brought together. Yes, the pageant is a terrific context for a murder mystery isn’t it?

It’s really little wonder there are several examples of this sort of context in the genre. I only have space in this blog for a few examples. I’m sure you’ll be able to fill in the gaps I’ve left.

In Victor Whitechurch’s Murder at the Pageant, Sir Henry Lynwood and his guests at Frimley Manor hold a costume pageant in aid of a local hospital. Their plan is to re-enact Queen Anne’s 1705 visit to the manor. The pageant itself goes well, and those involved return later to the manor house, where they enjoy a festive dinner. Later that night, one of the tenants on the property Jasper Hurst is killed. Just before he dies, two people are seen taking him away in the sedan chair that was used in the pageant. Captain Roger Bristow, who wrote the pageant and has arranged the event, works with the police to find out who killed Hurst and why. As it turns out, Hurst’s death is connected with the theft of a necklace belonging to the pageant’s ‘leading lady.’

Christianna Brand’s Death of Jezebel begins when Johnny Wise finds out that his girlfriend Perpetua Kirk has been unfaithful to him with Earl Anderson. What’s more, Wise didn’t discover this on his own; he was told by the cruel and malicious Isabel Drew. Brokenhearted over the loss of his love, Wise commits suicide. Seven years later, a medieval pageant is planned for Elysian Hall, in London. It’s to be converted into a model medieval village, where the event is going to take place. Isabel Drew is to play the lead role in the pageant. Against this backdrop, she, Anderson and Kirk have been getting threatening notes in which they are warned they’ll be killed. The murderer makes good that threat during the pageant when Isabel is strangled in public view and thrown from the tower constructed for the event. Inspector Charlesworth (whom fans will remember from Death in High Heels) and Inspector Cockrill (he of Green For Danger fame) work together to find out who committed the crime. Along with the pageant setting, this is one of those Golden-Age ‘impossible but not impossible’ crimes.

H.R.F Keating is perhaps best known for his mysteries featuring Inspector Ganesh Ghote. But he also wrote a standalone called Is Skin Deep, Is Fatal. In that novel, night-club owner Fay Curtis dies, apparently of suicide. Shortly before her death, she sent a note to pageant promoter Teddy Pariss, who is putting together a Miss Valentine beauty pageant. During rehearsals, Pariss is stabbed to death. Among other things, the note suggests to Superintendent Ironside that the two deaths might be connected. If so, then perhaps Fay Curtis’ death was not suicide. Ironside works with PC Peter Lassiter and DC Jack Spratt to find out who’s behind the deaths. It turns out that there are plenty of suspects too. As you might guess, the pageant has brought together some very competitive suspects. There’s also the fact that several of the people involved are keeping their own secrets…

David Roberts’ Sweet Sorrow is the last in his historical series featuring journalist Verity Browne and Lord Edward Corinth. At this point in the series (It’s 1939), the two have married, and have set up house at The Old Vicarage, in the village of Rodwell, Sussex. They’re hoping to have a peaceful summer, but that’s not at all what happens. Byron Gates, a London-based poet-turned detective novelist has moved with his daughter Ada and step-daughter Jean to Rodwell to escape imminent bombing in the big city. Gates has discovered that Virginia Woolf and some of her group are living in the area and he wants to join that circle. His children put on a pageant for the locals, based on the history of King Charles I and his beheading. Shortly after the pageant, Gates is found dead, beheaded just like King Charles. Cornish is pressed into service to help investigate, and it’s not long before more than one possibility is raised. Was Gates murdered because of suspected traitorous political loyalties? Was he killed for a personal reason? Cornish and Browne work together to find out the truth in this case.

And then there’s Riley Adams’ (AKA Elizabeth Spann Craig’s) Hickory Smoked Homicide. In that novel, we meet Tristan Pembroke, a malicious and self-important beauty pageant coach. She has no qualms about ruining the chances of anyone who gets in the way of the pageant contestants she mentors. And she’s managed to alienate just about everyone she meets with her rude and arrogant manner. One night, she hosts a benefit art auction. By the time the evening’s over, Tristan’s been murdered. Restaurant owner Lulu Taylor discovers the body and starts to ask questions. When it turns out that her own daughter-in-law Sara is a suspect, she’s even more determined to find out who the killer really is. Besides the mystery itself, we also get a look in this novel at how much pressure is involved in beauty pageants, even those intended for younger girls.

In Shelly Reuben’s The Boys of Sabbath Street, the small town of Calendar is getting ready for its annual Founders Day celebration. There’ll be music, shows, food, and more. Maggie Wakeling, assistant and PR representative for Mayor Artemus Ackerman, has a lot of planning to do to get ready. Then, there’s a fire on Sabbath Street. It soon comes out that this was a possible case of arson. Fire Marshal George Copeland is investigating when there’s another fire. And another. Now it looks as though an arsonist is at work, and Wakeling and Copeland work together to find out who that person is. Along with the obvious pressure to stop the fires, there’s additional stress because of the upcoming festivities. Founders Day represents an important PR opportunity for Calendar, and if it’s ruined, that could have real consequences for local businesses.

And that’s the thing about pageants and other such events. They’re often stressful and for those involved, the stakes are very high. It’s no wonder at all that we see them pop up in crime fiction as often as we do. These are just a few examples. Over to you.

Many thaks to Moira at Clothes in Books for the inspiration for this post. Do yourself a big favour and go visit her blog. Stay awhile; you’ll learn a lot about fashion, popular culture, and how it all impacts us. And you’ll read some terrific book reviews.
 
 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Sondheim’s A Parade in Town.

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Filed under Christianna Brand, David Roberts, Elizabeth Spann Craig, H.R.F. Keating, Riley Adams, Shelly Reuben, Victor Whitechurch

A Mug of Suds and a Leather Strop*

Barber Shops and Beauty SalonsFor most of us, trips to the barber shop or hair stylist are part of our routines. They’re places where we put life aside for a short while and take some time for ourselves, if only for the few minutes it takes to get our hair trimmed. But if you think about it, beauty salons and barber shops are also really effective contexts for crime novels. For one thing, a lot of gossip is exchanged at such places. So they’re very good places for sleuths to ‘listen in.’ And since barbers and hair stylists hear a lot of things, they’re awfully vulnerable when someone would rather keep something a secret. What’s more, people often have their guards down, so to speak, when they get their hair cut. So a barber shop or beauty salon can also be a solid setting for a murder. Little wonder that such places are woven through crime fiction.

In Agatha Christie’s Death in the Clouds (AKA Death in the Air) for instance, we meet London hairdresser’s assistant Jane Grey. After a lucky win in a lottery, Jane decides to use some of her prize for a holiday at Le Pinet. During her flight back from Paris to London, one of her fellow passengers Marie Morisot suddenly dies of what turns out to be poison. Hercule Poirot is on the same flight, so he works with Chief Inspector Japp to find out who the murderer is. Since the only possible suspects are the victim’s fellow passengers, Jane comes in for her share of questioning. And she learns that sometimes, being mixed up in a murder case gets a person quite a lot of publicity and can even be good for one’s career. Jane’s occupation isn’t the reason for the murder, but in the course of the story, readers get a look at a London beauty salon, and there are some funny moments as Jane and her colleagues encounter all sorts of different clients and deal with their irascible boss.

In Rex Stout’s novella The Cop-Killer, the Goldenrod Barber Shop, where both Archie Goodwin and his boss Nero Wolfe get their hair cut, becomes the focus of a triple murder investigation. When two women are killed by a hit-and-run driver, police detective Jake Wallen thinks he has tracked the killer to the barber shop. He’s following up on this lead when he himself is stabbed. Suspicion falls on Carl and Tina Vardas, who work at the shop and who are in the country illegally. They ask Goodwin to help them, since they know they’re likely to be deported at the very least. Goodwin agrees to at least look into the matter and he and Wolfe trace Wallen’s movements to find out who killed him and why.

Elizabeth Spann Craig’s A Dyeing Shame: Death at the Beauty Box introduces us to retired teacher Myrtle Clover. She gets her hair done at The Beauty Box, a hair salon in the small town of Bradley, North Carolina. Lately, the shop’s owner Tammy Smith has been having some very obvious problems. She’s been ruining people’s hair and drinking quite a lot. It’s very clear that something’s wrong, but Tammy’s not saying what it is. Then one night she’s stabbed in the back with a pair of shears and pushed down the stairs to the shop’s basement. There’s talk that Tammy’s niece Kat Roberts is guilty, and it’s not impossible. Kat works at the shop and everyone knows the plan was for her to take over some day. What’s more, she’s quarreled with her aunt more than once. Kat says she’s innocent though, and Myrtle believes her. It turns out that this murder has more to do with Tammy’s personal life than with her skill at styling.

In Barry Maitland’s The Marx Sisters, DCI David Brock and DS Kathy Kolla investigate the death of Meredith Winterbottom, who lives in Jerusalem Lane with her two sisters. On the surface of it, the death looks like a suicide. But Kolla isn’t so sure of that and Brock agrees that she should look into the matter more closely. It turns out that there are several possibilities too. For one thing, a development company wants to buy up Jerusalem Lane to create a new shopping and entertainment complex, but the victim was holding out and refusing to sell. For another, Meredith’s son Terry stands to inherit the house in Jerusalem Lane. He’s the owner of several beauty salons in the area and has found himself in real financial trouble. The sale of the house to the developers will make a big difference. And then there’s the fact that Meredith and her sisters are descendants of Karl Marx, and have several old papers and books among their possessions. Those items are potentially worth a great deal of money. One of the leads that the detectives follow is Terry’s business situation. A little digging into his life as a salon owner turns up some not-very-above-board doings. And you thought you could trust a salon owner… ;-)

We see how vulnerable people can be at barber shops and salons in Mayra Montero’s Dancing to ‘Almendra.’ In that novel, which takes place in 1957, New York Mafia capo Umberto Anastasia is murdered in the barber shop at the Park Sheraton Hotel (If that story sounds familiar, it’s because it’s based on a real event). On the very same day, a hippopotamus escapes from the zoo in Havana. What’s interesting is that the two incidents are related. Joaquín Porrata is a young Cuban journalist who’s assigned to cover the story of the escaped hippo. When the zookeeper hints that there’s a Mob connection in both cases, Porrata senses a much bigger story. So he digs deeper and finds himself getting dangerously involved in the Cuban/American Mob scene.

And then there’s Douglas Lindsay’s Barney Thomson series. When we first meet Thomson in The Long Midnight of Barney Thomson, he’s a nondescript Glasgow barber with an unhappy marriage. The customers at the barber shop usually bypass him for the other two barbers, and few people really pay attention to him at all. He’s socially awkward and certainly not prepossessing. He’s got a morose attitude to life, and for good reason. And in his fantasies, he’d love to commit a murder or two. And, as it turns out, there’s a serial killer who wouldn’t mind lending a hand. This is a comic-noir twist on the barber shop theme, and for those who enjoy that sort of dark wit, there is a lot of humour here.

See what I mean? We may take those trips to the hair stylist or barber for granted, but you never know what can happen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment with my stylist. Don’t want to be late, you know; she doesn’t like that…

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Stephen Sondheim’s Ballad of Sweeney Todd (Prologue).

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Barry Maitland, Douglas Lindsay, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Mayra Montero, Rex Stout

Sketch the Trees and the Daffodils*

ArtMany people love art just for its own sake. They visit museums and if they have enough money, they have their own art collections. But art can also be very valuable. People who see art as a financial investment may even collect it for that reason. And of course, something that’s worth a lot of money is also a very attractive target for theft and (in the case of art) forgery. Little wonder the art business is such a popular context for crime fiction. Anything worth that much money is bound to attract crime. Here are just a few examples.

In Agatha Christie’s After the Funeral (AKA Funerals are Fatal), the family of patriarch Richard Abernethie gathers for his funeral and the reading of his will. When his youngest sister Cora Lansquenet says that he was murdered, everyone hushes her up at first, and even she takes back what she said. But the next day, Cora herself is killed. Now the family attorney Mr. Entwhistle begins to believe that perhaps she was right, and in any case he wants to know who killed her.  So he asks Hercule Poirot to investigate. There are several suspects too, since everyone in the family benefited from both Abernethie’s death and that of his sister. As Poirot traces Cora’s last days and weeks, he learns that she was an enthusiastic (if not particularly skilled) painter who kept hoping to find a masterpiece when she picked up various paintings at estate and bargain sales. That’s how she made the acquaintance of art expert Alexander Guthrie, who, as it turns out, plays a role in the outcome of this story.

Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn is married to artist Agatha Troy, so the art world is a frequent context in her novels. And sometimes the art world can be dangerous. In A Clutch of Constables, for instance, Troy decides to take a much-needed getaway cruise on the Zodiac. But it doesn’t turn out to be the restful trip she wants. First, one of the passengers is left behind when the boat leaves the dock, and is later found murdered. Then, during the trip, another passenger is drowned, and quite probably not by accident. Meanwhile, Troy learns that an international art forger known only as Jampot may be along for the cruise, and may have had something to do with the deaths. She tells the story to her husband in the form of a series of letters that he later uses in a class he’s teaching.

It’s well-known that just before and during World War II, the Nazis ‘safeguarded’ large fortunes of art. Some of it has been returned to the families that rightfully own it; much hasn’t. That valuable art figures into the plot of several novels. One of them is Bartholomew Gill’s McGarr and the PM of Belgrave Square. Garda Chief Superintendent Peter McGarr and his assistant O’Shaugnessy investigate the shooting death of Dublin art and antiques dealer William Craig. In the process, they look into Craig’s business dealings as well as his personal life, and they find more than one suspect. Then it’s discovered that one of the paintings in Craig’s inventory is missing. This opens up other possibilities for the murder, one of which leads back to Nazi art theft during World War II. In the end, and with help from his wife Noreen, who works in her family’s art gallery, McGarr finds out the truth about Craig’s murder.

That theme of looted art from the Nazi era is also at the core of Aaron Elkins’ Loot. Boston art historian/expert Ben Revere gets a call one day from pawn shop owner Simeon Pawlovsky, a casual friend. Pawlovsky’s just gotten a painting he thinks may be valuable and he wants Revere’s opinion on it. Revere agrees and visits the shop. There he is shocked to find that the painting is likely an extremely valuable Velázquez. He wants to check out some facts though, and promises to return to the shop once he’s done so. When he does return after a few hours, he finds that Pawlovsky’s been murdered. Revere feels some responsibility for the killing; he believes he should have insisted that Pawlovsky not keep such a valuable piece of art in his shop. So he decides to try to trace the painting, hoping it will lead him to the killer. It turns out that the painting is one of a truckload of ‘safeguarded’ pieces of art that disappeared during World War II.  Revere travels to Europe and slowly finds out how the painting got from the back of the truck to a pawn shop. In that end, that trail also leads to the killer.

Art theft is also at the heart of Ian Rankin’s Doors Open. Wealthy Mike Mackenzie is a little bored with his life and wants to put some excitement back into it. One of his friends is banker Allan Cruikshank, with whom he shares a love of art. Together with art professor Robert Gissing, and with help from local gangster Chib Calloway, the group concocts a very daring scheme. They want to rob the National Gallery of Scotland and replace some of its extremely valuable holdings with forgeries that will be created by one of Gissing’s art students, who’s usually known as ‘Westie.’ The group chooses the gallery’s Doors Open day for the robbery. On that day, the gallery will open its warehouse and some other private areas to the public, and it seems like the perfect opportunity for the robbery. Everything goes off well enough, but the group soon learns that just stealing valuable art isn’t all there is to benefiting from it…

Because art is valuable, there are also plenty of crime stories that involve art auctions, whether for gain or charity. For instance, Gail Bowen’s The Gifted has as one of its plot threads a charity art auction that’s intended to benefit the Racette-Hunter Centre, a community development project. Bowen’s sleuth Joanne Kilbourn Shreve and her husband Zack are both excited and concerned when two pieces of their daughter Taylor’s work are chosen to be auctioned. Taylor is an unusually gifted artist, but she is also only fourteen, and her parents are concerned about the major changes that this kind of notice will bring to her life. Taylor shares one piece of her work with her parents, but no-one has seen the other. On the night of the auction, she reveals that other painting and that work has drastic consequences for more than one person.

A charity art auction is the setting for a murder in Riley Adams’ (AKA  Elizabeth Spann Craig) Hickory Smoked Homicide. Socialite and beauty pageant coach Tristan Pembroke puts together a charity art auction and dinner. Underneath that beneficent exterior though, she’s actually a malicious and spiteful person. So when she’s murdered at the auction, there are several suspects. Lulu Taylor, who owns and runs Aunt Pat’s Barbecue, gets involved in the investigation because her daughter-in-law Sara is high on the list of candidates. Lulu wants to clear Sara’s name, so she starts to ask questions. The art itself isn’t the reason for this murder, but I can say without spoiling the story that a particular painting plays a role in the mystery.

All of this just shows that art is more than something people love for its own sake. It’s a very valuable commodity. Little wonder there are so many crime novels that involve art theft and forgery. Which ones have you enjoyed?

 

 
 

*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Don McLean’s Vincent (Starry, Starry Night).

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Filed under Aaron Elkins, Agatha Christie, Bartholomew Gill, Elizabeth Spann Craig, Gail Bowen, Ian Rankin, Ngaio Marsh, Riley Adams