Tag Archives: Art Crime

Every Picture Has a Story


I’m not sure when we first connect to art as something more than a scribble our parents put on the refrigerator. Somewhere along our personal timeline, we recognize our own feelings in a painting, and wonder if the artist felt the same way. Even works created decades, or centuries before we were born. Skip ahead to college dorms, and you’ll find Max Ernst and Edvard Munch hanging side by side expressing angst and romanticism. There are times in our lives when images convey more than the OED could find the words to explain.

Ashes_Edvard Munch

During WWII, art took on political meaning, and for many Nazi leaders, rising to power meant amassing collections of the masters, and giving their Furer the best of the lot, as the wide-scale looting and confiscation moved hundreds of thousands of pieces of art– renaissance masters to modern impressionist– from museums and private collections to train cars, salt mines, remote estates, to anywhere it could be hidden. The old masters were revered, the new free expression and bold interpretations of life created by artists such as Paul Klee, Picasso, Otto Dix, Max Lieberman, Van Gogh, Marc Chagall, Munch, and Ernst were labeled degenerate.

I’ve read accounts of bon fires, where works by these artists were rendered to ashes, others auctioned off to feed money into the Nazi war machine. Why were these marked for destruction? Adolf Hitler felt that anyone who painted in this style must be physically inferior to see the world and colors in this way. If the works he detested didn’t meet this definition, then he labeled it politically subversive.

The stories told within these images are now layered in stories of what happened to the art, and where it has traveled in the last 70 years.

Right now, stolen art is hot. Not for being stolen, but for the publicity generated by the news such as the cache of art discovered inside the walls of a Munich apartment, the trial of art thieves in Amsterdam which resulted in the destruction of priceless works by Gauguin, Matisse, and Monet, to the upcoming film directed by George Clooney, Monuments Men.

I think that’s why Jade Weeks, the main character in my art mystery series, is so entwined with her pursuit of art. She uses the stories inside the paintings to explain the disjointed memories that flash through her dreams. Recovering a stolen masterpiece recovers a part of herself. In the next series installment, she is tracking the history of a Paul Klee painting that belonged to her great-grandfather, and was last seen with her grandmother just before she disappeared near the border of France and Germany towards the end of WWII.Wired, A Jade Weeks Art Mystery

Jade is reluctant to get caught up in the search, but John Young, the undercover FBI agent who pushed her to solve her father’s murder in Wired, is determined to engage her help. Even though it feels like a set up, Jade can’t stay away. When she tries to strike out alone, a shoot out, and cryptic text messages push her right back into John’s path.

As she tries to push away the memories of her father’s death and her life before his murder, she recognizes a kindred spirit in her grandmother, Anna Blume.

~ Stay tuned for updates and previews of Enigma, book two in the Jade Weekes Art Mystery series.


Hey, Look Over Here!


There’s only so much jumping up and down and waving your hands you can do before people stop paying attention.

So how do you get noticed in the digital age? The simple answer is Twitter, Facebook, blogging, etcetera… etcetera…. all of the above. How’s your traffic? Tweeting and updating your social media is great, but what if a few tweaks could significantly increase your traffic? It’s not about getting attention, it’s about being found in a sea of tweets and email blasts.

Here are some tips:

Search Engine Optimization

  • Your blog or website is your public persona and billboard for branding, writing and winning over new fans. How do people find information on the web? Search engines. Is your blog Search Engine Optimized (SEO)? It’s not so scary or hard to tweak your site content to be search engine friendly. Begin with a list of words closely associated with your branding. Now look through your recent blog posts and see if these words appear. If not, you’re not giving a clear message to readers of who you are and what you’re about AND search engines, which send out crawlers, will not find you and deliver your site to new readers. Optimization should come after you’ve written your post and before you publish as part of the proofreading/revising stage. Key words should feel natural, not planted.

Appeal to Short Attention Spans

  • Bullet points allow readers to skim and read information they feel is relevant to their needs. If they like what they skim, they’ll take the time to read more.

 Infographics

  • Map your characters, plot, or anything that delivers a fun nugget of information to your readers.

 Use Cool Tools

  • Find innovative ways to use new media tools. Pinterest is the hot new social media trend, but how do you use it for gaining attention rather than pinning random pictures? Try creating a board that’s all about your writing genre, or the novels that most influenced your writing. How about organizing pix and links for your writing research? This lets your readers see into your creative process. I’m building a board titled The Art of Art Theft. I’m pinning famous work, giving the artist and date the piece was stolen. Some of these will be mentioned in my new art crime thriller, “WIRED” and the follow-up novel “Persistence of Time”.  

Branding… or how to find your keywords

  •  Branding is what you’re all about: your writing, your genre, your style, your theme. It doesn’t matter if you’re a writer selling novels or a business promoting a new product, the words should represent what you want others to identify with you. Without thinking too deeply, jot down the words that come to the top of your mind. Now imagine a triangle. At the top is what you’re trying to accomplish, on the lower corners you have your list of key (branding) words and your novel/product. They should all work together to make a cohesive message. If you wanted to find you on the internet without using your name or the name of your novel/product, what words would you choose?  

At the top of my triangle I’ve written Build Audience. The lower left corner lists key words Thriller, Mystery and Art Crime. The last corner lists “Perfect Copy” and “WIRED”.

My Last Tip…

  • Check out LinkedIn groups related to social media, your interests, or writing platform.  The conversations shared will give you a fast track to new trends and tools to help you get noticed.

WIRED


I’m getting close to the final edits on WIRED and just can’t resist sharing a few chapters. You met Stewart Connor on Sample Sunday, now meet Simon Morrell and Jade Weekes: both are smart and resourceful, however, only one will survive an FBI sting and a crime syndicate turf war.

Chapter 1

Simon Morrell slipped a razor blade through the paper and peeled the image from the frame. He did this again and again until six master pieces lined a cardboard tube.

Less than two minutes later, he dropped the tube into a crate, latched it shut, and affixed a shipping label to the outside. He added a forged manifest to the clip board for the morning outgoing stock and opened the door. Alarms rang instantly.

He ran the half block to a Peugeot idling in the dark, dropped the knife to the floor boards and signaled his driver to move a moment too late. A car swerved, blocking the road, lights flashed and too quickly to be luck. Hands pulled him and Henri to the sidewalk.

“Monsieur,” he smiled, twisting his head to look at the office. It was not the Paris police, but the Gendarme. “What is this?”

They patted him down and hauled him to his feet. Henri was face down on the Peugeot’s hood with his hands cuffed.

“Do you want to explain what you were doing at the Musee de Moderne?”

Morrell continued to smile, “I’m sitting and waiting for a friend that is late. Why all this?” he motions to the cuffs and lights.

He was interrupted by a third Gendarme that pulled in behind them. This one was dressed in street clothes and had a day of stubble on his face. He searched Morrell’s car.

“Nothing’s here.” He slammed the car door and pointed a flashlight in Morrell’s face. “Simon Morrell,” he said.

Morrell recognized the voice and dark gray eyes and the wrinkled suit. He’d be out by morning, he thought.

The third officer nodded to the others and Morrell was helped into one of the cars, Henri into another. The officer climbed in with him and pulled the car into the road and toward police headquarters.

“Jarvinen sent you?” asked Morrell.

“Of course, someone had to haul your ass out. Is it done?”

“It will be finished soon enough. When I have the money, Jarvinen gets the paintings.”

Chapter Two

Jade Weekes tapped the speed dial on her phone and waited. “I have the item you want.” She half listened as a waiter planted a glass of pinot on the table along with a basket of hard bread. She smiled, the cafe owner stood in the doorway watching. She turned back to the conversation, the deep voice almost garbled on the mobile signal.

“When? I’ll meet you Wednesday. Noon at the Maison du Livre on Rue Saint-Honore.” Her French was good, but flat with an American intonation. She ended the conversation, scanning the faces passing by on the sidewalk, then the couple sitting at the far end of the patio. It was early for dinner, especially in the Paris tourist district. A few people lingered by the menu posted outside the cafe.

“American?” asked a voice from the table behind her. Jade turned and met the stare of a young man– barely a man, she corrected and smiled. She considered not answering, but decided to play.

“Yes, and you?” The side-ways game of dodging amorous Frenchman amused her, and he was rather cute. They all assumed Americans were rich and easy.

Her cell phone rang, saving her from further joisting, the number she recognized, Chicago. “Yes, Robert?”

“Can you talk?” he asked.

“More or less, can you?”

“I have an assignment.” She could sense his annoyance. “Are you interested?” Behind Robert’s voice, gunshots popped in succession.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“I’m with a buyer at a shooting range.”

“Is that wise?”

“In this case, yes. Are you in?” he asked.

“Where and what is it that you need?”

“It’s in the home of a collector in St. Pete. It’s been out of circulation for a while. How soon can you get there?” Out of circulation, that meant stolen or smuggled, Robert rarely cared which. His word choice lead her to surmise his phone was bugged as usual.

“How much is your client willing to pay to obtain this collector’s piece?” She took a sip of her wine and folded open the menu, pretending to read.

“Five hundred.” A half mill, that would be worth a plane ride but she was pissed he’d call her in front of a buyer and when his phone could possibly be tapped.

“I’ll think about it and get back to you. Can you send me a photo of what he wants?”
Robert agreed, ending the call abruptly. The young man behind her had left and the sky was darkening to a rose and steel blue twilight.

The last deal she’d helped Robert White pull off had nearly ended her life and blown her reputation. It took two years to repair the damage and reestablish her contacts. Half a million dollars. That would let her take time off and perhaps build her collection. Maybe I’ll open up an art house, she thought, then smiled. She’d have to actually buy the works and prove their provenance.

She laid cash on the table and headed toward the river. There was a man there she liked to talk with on occasion. He’d be there with his Rottweiler and bag of stale bread which he would throw into the water to watch the fish snatch up.

She pictured the bench in the evening shadows of Notre Dame and the barges lined up along the quay. He lived there part of the year; the rest of the time, Jade had no idea where he went. She needed him to fill in a few missing pieces to her story, the one he’d started telling her about a thief and the Musee de Moderne.

Chapter Three

Morrell scratched a hand over his head and stretched his jaw trying to get his face to relax. His muscles twitched and a cramp prevented him from turning his head to the right. Jarvinen waited.

He’d chosen to meet in the metro under Charles de Gaulle. Jarvinen blended in with the crowd and only the familiar faces of several men around him signaled the security he commanded. Morrell approached and Jarvinen offered a cigarette.

Morrell nodded and lit the fag before speaking. “The delivery came through as scheduled. It’s all there, Van Gogh, Degas and Chagall.

“Clever, Simon. The Musee mailed us their own art and then sent the police all over France looking for them. I admire innovative thinking.”

“Thank you.” Morrell nodded, proud of the simplicity of his plan. The Musee staff, unaware of the crate’s contents, shipped their own stolen works to an associate who’d arranged to have it moved to a warehouse in London. It was on its way to Saudi Arabia and into a private collection and a large sum was headed to Morrell’s bank account.

Commuters shoved their way past them and the ring of body guards closed in. Something hid behind Jarvinen’s expression: tension. He seemed to be focused on his thoughts and stared at Morrell intently.
“One more, Simon,” he said.

Morrell’s skin prickled, clammy sweat chilled his skin. “A last job?” he asked with a forced smile. “I plan to retire.”

Jarvinen ignored him, “St. Pete.” He laid a newspaper against Morrell’s chest. “Read this and get back to me with your ideas. Three days, Simon,” he warned.

An armed police team walked by, scanning the crowd. Jarvinen and his guards faded into the foot traffic along the platform, blending. It was a refined survivor tactic for Jarvinen.

Morrell looked at the paper he’d been handed. It was the St. Pete Times, folded to the business section with a photo of a young man and a middle aged woman staring back at him. Alex Ford, the caption read, generously donated six priceless Van Gogh’s to the Red Door Foundation for Fine Art. Behind the couple, leaning against a gold painted easel, was the unmistakable image of what Jarvinen really wanted.
He tucked the paper under his arm and headed up the escalator.

The Wind Beaten Tree went gone underground in 1972, so this was must be one of the study pieces.
He scanned the photo again and began drawing lines from Ford to Van Gogh to Jarvinen. The next course of action was clearly illustrated. It would take more than three days.

Chapter 4

Jade bobbed and weaved through a crowd of students following a red-jacketed guide. She caught snatches of his speech which caused her to glance up at the old church. The stone-work was medieval, but the glass newer, installed shortly after WWII when smashed by invading soldiers. The American students seemed to only half listen, pre-occupied snapping pictures or talking. How could they appreciate art that had taken a hundred years to build, one day to nearly destroy and a half century to repair? Paris carried the marks of history like battle scars, its museums holding artifacts that had been hidden from Nazi forces and repatriated in the years since. She knew these museums well.

She cut through an alley between a hotel and a row of shops and came to the quay. It was quieter here. Andre sat on his bench with Gustavo, his pure bred Rottweiler, resting in the straggled grass.

“Bonjour, Andre,” she said, sitting. He didn’t turn. His attention settled on the far bank where a group of workers worked, repairing a bridge abutment.

“I’m surprised to see you today,” he said in English, his accent light and refined. “I thought you would have moved on by now.”

“I have a job waiting, but first I wanted to see if you know of a man named Morrell.”
“Why?”

“I hear his name around.” She watched his expression for a reaction.

“You don’t want to know him. He has terrible luck and even worse breath.”

“Seriously, Andre, I’m heading to the states for awhile, can you keep an eye on him and let me know if he does… well, anything interesting?”

“The Musee de Moderne was burgled last night. The thief, or thieves, took six items, all of outstanding quality.”

Jade studied his profile trying to discern his intent. “I was occupied last night and nowhere near the Musee, or are suggesting it was Morrell,” she asked. “I have a delivery to make and then I’ll be out of France at least until the end of the month.”

“Are you working with Morrell?” Andre asked in turn.

“No, but I got a tip that he vouched for a buyer in London. I want to know how good his relations are with the group.” The group referred to a small network of crooks, con men and wise guys that specialized in cultural artifacts ferreted to the black market. She’d crossed paths with them before and worked very hard to stay out of their way.

“Morrell has been around awhile, don’t trust him to be honest, but you can trust him to be an excellent crook. I wouldn’t make any deals with him.” Andre reached into his jacket and produced a small yellow envelope and handed it to her. “Happy birthday.”

She took the envelope, but didn’t open it. “What’s this?”

“Information.” Finally he turned to look at her, his tone moving from playful to serious. “There are rumblings and sometimes I hear your name mentioned,” he paused, “there’s a mole in the Gendarme. He may or may not be helpful.”

“Why are you telling me this? Do you know something about the Musee job last night? You weren’t asking because you thought I did the job.”

Andre didn’t speak. She opened the envelope and removed a newspaper clipping. The story was about an American student that had disappeared in 1997. “Is this me?” she asked.

He shrugged. “It’s your memory that plays tricks. I try to fill in the landscape.”

“Before I leave,” she started, not know how to say it right. “I want you to know that I am grateful.”

“For giving you a job or for fishing you out of the river?” he asked.

Jade folded the paper and put it back in the envelope. “Both, but mostly for fishing me out of the river. I’m too good at stealing to have ever been anything else.”

“Steal? No, you are redistributing resources.”

“I know what I am, I just don’t know who I am.” Her near drowning in the river was where her life began.

Andre chuckled. “That is an old question for all of us.”

“It gives me all the comfort I need. Don’t you think a life worth returning to would also be worth remembering?”

On impulse, she leaned over and kissed his rough cheek. He smelled of musk and oak, the smells of his house boat that bobbed in the water nearby. “I have to go.”

“I know,” he said.

Jade walked away from the smell of brackish water and diesel fuel from a tug churning along the waterway. The scent never failed to dip her mind to the night Andre had pulled her from the oily river wash. The chaotic flashes of that evening remained more clear to her memory than the previous twenty-some years that had become a blank check. She owed Andre her life, and sometimes, she thought, perhaps more.


Blog Log


For me, blogs have become customized newspapers and magazines. There is a wealth of knowledge and entertainment online and it is easily delivered to my email every day.

While Twitter gives me headlines, their links have turned me on to some fabulous writers, thinkers and people who are simply interesting.

Here are a few I enjoy:

“Book A Day” Staff Picks | This daily book review is written by multiple staff members of the Wake County Public Library system. Their range is from one end of the literary spectrum the other, crossing styles, genre and time. It’s just as likely to include a well-known classic as it is a new emerging author. The only requirement is that the book is well written and fun to read. I’ve read several of their recommendations by authors I otherwise never would have known. If your local library doesn’t have a similar blog, you can borrow mine;)

Women of Mystery | A DOOR AJAR | The Women of Mystery share the trek, travail and tangles of writing and publishing, along with the magic of language and story. Don’t just peek around the jamb, come on in and join the conversation!

We especially invite you to join us on Tuesdays, when we do Two Sentence Tuesday posts. The “rules” are simple: post two sentences you read, along with two you wrote. Put them in our comments, or just tell us where to find them. We’ll update the Tuesday post periodically during the day with links to everyone’s sentences.

The Women of Mystery are: Elaine Will Sparber, Gial Stockton, Terrie Farley Moran, Anita Page, Nan Higginson, Cathi Stoler, Loi Karlin, Kathleen A. Ryan, Clare2e, Leigh Neely, Laura K. Curtis.

 This Write Life  | Mary Jo Gibson: At the end of every research week I have an assortment of interesting bits I find on the web, but have nowhere to share them. Creating this small post gives me a depository for extra information that I can share with my readers. For International Museum Day, I would like to highlight some of the museums I have used and found.

ARCA | “ARCA (Association for Research into Crimes against Art) is an interdisciplinary think tank/research group on contemporary issues in art crime. This international non-profit organization studies issues in art crime and cultural property protection, runs educational programs, and consults on art protection and recovery issues brought to them by police, governments, museums, places of worship, and other public institutions.”

Their informative posts range from profiles of their students to the portrayal of art crime in the media and how international art theft affects the world. If you’re thinking The Thomas Crown Affair, think again. Real criminals often aren’t that clever or handsome, but they are interesting.

Indie Book Collective | If you spend any amount of time on Twitter, you can’t miss the Indie Book Collective. They have founded numerous programs to promote indie authors and drive name recognition and sales. Their blog is a collection of timely information on the indie publishing business and advice on how to succeed as an indie author written from the indie trenches. If you have a question and you don’t find the answer here, you can try the Indie Book Collective website where they host a catalog of how to articles ranging from formatting your ebook to finding reviewers.

Self-Published Author’s Lounge | Stephanie Beman, Ruth Ann Nordin, Joleene Naylor share their publishing experience no holds barred. I’ve discovered new photo sources for book covers, as well as tips on formatting, marketing and surviving the Indie Book life.

Primo Reads | Over at Ning, I’ve discovered a great book review blog that covers a wide range of genres with intelligent commentary.  You won’t find any duds with these recommendations.

I can’t forget to mention Leo Laport and Leoville. He is The Tech Guy and while he is an occasional blogger, he is a prolific podcaster. Download his show free from iTunes to learn how to do cool things with your iPhone, fix your PC, debug software, trick out your home entertainment, and just about everything tech. Did I mention he’s writer/journalist and gives great advice on publishing software, services and marketing ideas? Plus he’s a nice guy.

There are more, but these are the blogs I find myself returning to again and again.  Share your favorite blogs and writing links.


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