One night last week Jack and I watched Andrew Graham-Dixon’s television programme, ‘Stealing Van Gogh’. Graham-Dixon is a British art historian and you may have seen some of his other series which includes one on the art collection of the Royal Family. This programme was different in that it not only talked about Van Gogh’s art but also described a crime which took place in December 2002 and followed the story to its final resolution in September 2016. On December 7th, 2002 a daring robbery took place at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, two smallish Van Gogh’s were stolen. The whole thing took three minutes and 40 seconds, from the time the burglars’ dressed as workmen put up their ladder against the museum wall to when they drove away with their ill- gotten gains. The paintings were retrieved 13 years and nine months later in Naples, Italy. Due to carelessness, he lost his hat during the exit from the museum and the police were able to trace his DNA, one of the burglars was easily apprehended but there was no sign of the paintings. Evidently, valuable paintings are used as currency in the underground drug dealing/crime gang world. If a painting is worth say $14 million dollars, the possessor is able to use about ten percent of its value as collateral for purchasing drugs etc. Possession of stolen art is also often used as a bargaining chip by criminals for reduced sentences. “I’ll give you back the paintings, you can knock x years off my sentence.”
Watching the programme got me thinking about mysteries I had read that involved art. The first one that came to mind, probably because of the title, was A.J. Zerris The Lost Van Gogh, (in stock, used MM, $4). This book starts not with the theft of a Van Gogh but with the return of a missing Van Gogh to the Met in New York, in an ordinary UPS package. Timothy Holme’s, The Neapolitan Streak, was another obvious connection with the television show I had just watched. There are five books in this series featuring Inspector Perini. We have a copy of book #4, The Assisi Murders, in used mass market ($7). Iain Pears has written a number of books with art themes. He has a series which features the Italian National Art Theft Squad and British Art historian Jonathan Argyll. In a classic mystery construct the officials and the amateur, are sometimes working together and sometimes working from opposite ends of the problem. I have really enjoyed this series.
Barbara A. Smith, the thriller writer, has started to write mysteries with an art theme. The first title is The Art Forger (in stock, TP, $16.99) which is based in the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum in Boston, which itself was the site of spectacular art theft. In March 1990, two men posing as policemen gained entry to the museum, tied up the guards and during the course of the night stole 13 paintings valued at $500 million. Despite the offer of a $10 million reward the paintings have never been recovered. There were suspicions that criminal gangs were involved and the museum has made announcements regarding the way the art work should be treated to preserve its value. Shapiro’s second novel is The Muralist (in stock, TP, $19.99) and the third novel The Collector’s Apprentice will be published in hardcover in October 2018.
Many mystery writers have one title in a series that includes an art theft. The 17th title in John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport series, Invisible Prey is one example (in stock, used mm, $5). The plot in sixth title in A.D. Scott’s Highland Gazette series, A Kind Of Grief, revolves around the death of an artist (in stock, new TP $18.50, used TP $10). In other series art and art related crime are a continuing undercurrent and subplot. The hero of Daniel Silva’s long series is Gabriel Allon an art restorer by trade. Inspector Roderick Alleyn, the main character in Ngaio Marsh is in a relationship and then married to painter Agatha Troy. The sixth title in the series, Artists in Crime, takes place in an art class (in stock, used mm, $6). Marsh died in 1982. There was an unfinished manuscript which has now been completed by Stella Duffy. Money in the Morgue will be published in hardcover in March 2018 ($32.99). This book like Died in the Wool (published 1944), is set in New Zealand during the second World War (in stock, used mm, $5).
The first title in Margaret Maron’s ‘Sigrid Harald’ series, One Coffee With, starts with a murder in a university Art Department (in stock, used mm, $8). There are eight titles in the series that were published between 1981-1995. Because of Harald’s relationship with an artist she meets during the first murder investigation there is an undercurrent of art in most of the other titles. Maron stopped writing this series and moved on to the Judge Deborah Knott series. Maron announced that Long Upon the Land published in 2015 would be the last title in that series (in stock, new mm, $9.49). In 2017 after a 22 year gap, Maron published Take Out which is to be the final Sigrid Harald title (mm, $10.49, March 2018).
Michael Redhill won the 2017 Giller prize for Bellevue Square (in stock, hard cover, $32), one of his earlier novels Martin Sloane (in stock, TP, $19.95) which is about a missing artist was also short listed for the Giller. Since 2008 Redhill has been writing the ‘Hazel Micallef’ mysteries under the pseudonym Inger Ash Wolfe. We’ve got books #2, 3, and 4 in stock.
A quick look through the store’s inventory produced many books in stock (both new and used) where the plot had an art theme. I am going to list a few of them here but there are many more which we could point out to you. Janice Law has a series in which Irish born British artist Francis Bacon is the main character. The first title is Fires of London which takes place during the Blitz (in stock, TP, $16.99). Other writers and titles would be Arturo Perez-Reverte The Painter of Battles (in stock, TP, $19), John Malcom A Back Room in Somers Town (in stock, used mm, $6), and Barbara Ewing The Fraud (in stock, new, $14.99).
What survey of mysteries would be complete without one of the major figures in the genre Ian Rankin. And yes, he also has an art mystery. Back in 2007 when Rebus had departed, supposedly had his last stand in Exit Music, Rankin published a completely different mystery Doors Open (in stock, used TP, $8/$9). This is a classic heist story revolving around millionaire Mike Mackenzie and the National Gallery of Scotland.