art · book review · lost art · mystery · original plot

Book Review – Lost Children

by Willa Bergman

A celebrated painting, the Portrait of the Lost Child, has been missing for over a decade. Eloise Witcham is commissioned to find it, but if she does she will have to confront a past she thought long behind her and face up to the dark fears that still haunt her dreams.

A stylish, intelligent, contemporary thriller set in the secretive world of high end art.

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My Review

Art, history and a very clever mystery – Could this book be any more “up my street”? I seriously doubt it.

Despite what might be for some a slow start, I loved the time the author spent to lay the foundations for this story. With a particularly addictive writing style, she had me hooked.

The background specifics of the main character’s childhood in France – and what she and her mother and brother subsequently had to do – set the scene beautifully (or should I say set the scene perfectly for misdirection LOL) , and it was no surprise that Eloise (Elle) went on to work in the industry of finding lost art and antiquities, after all she had been surrounded by beautiful pieces for years.

At times, it was as though I were in the midst of an art history lesson, with sumptuous details about the painting at the centre of the story, and its fascinating history.

And then, wham! Elle is commissioned to find the Portrait of the Lost Child for an unidentified buyer. Why choose her? She’s not the most senior within her department, but she does have a good track record. However, it soon becomes apparent that she has a particular association with the painting, and finding it before others do becomes vital if she is to keep her family’s secret from getting out.

They say you always have a choice. But what is my choice here? The choice between hurting the ones I love, or helping the ones I hate

Eloise (Lost Children)

From here on, the pace picks up dramatically and it becomes addictive reading, being both informative on the art front and insightful on the personal, family front. Can she find the painting before competitors within her field? And then what? Hand it over and risk exposure to something that could have dire consequences for her family, herself included.

Without disclosing any spoilers, let me just say this is an original and inventive mystery with an extraordinary ending that is both dramatic and satisfying.

My thanks go to the author and Rosie’s Book Review Team for my e-copy of this, which I have reviewed voluntarily and honestly (and loved every minute of it!)

As always,


art · blog tour · book launch · book review · Italy · romance · there's a dog

Publication Day Push ‘n’ Book Review – Second Chances in Chianti

Second Chances in Chianti

Alice thought her future was set in stone, until her past came knocking…

Alice Butler starred in a successful US sitcom until tensions in the cast and crew caused the show to be cancelled. Now, five years later and working towards her dream job in art history, she’s called back for a revival of the show. It can only end in disaster, surely?

Flown to a villa in Chianti to meet with the rest of the cast, Alice must decide where her future lies – with her boyfriend, David, who laps up the Hollywood company, or with the mysterious Matt, who shies away from public attention?

Purchase Link – mybook.to/SecondChancesChianti

Author Bio

I’m a man. And a pretty old man as well. I did languages at university a long time ago and then lived and worked in France and Switzerland before going to Italy for seven years as a teacher of English. My Italian wife and I then came back to the UK with our little daughter (now long-since grown up) where I ran a big English language school for many years. We now live in a sleepy little village in Devonshire. I’ve been writing almost all my life but it was only seven years ago that I finally managed to find a publisher who liked my work enough to offer me my first contract.

The fact that I am now writing romantic comedy is something I still find hard to explain. My early books were thrillers and historical novels. Maybe it’s because there are so many horrible things happening in the world today that I feel I need to do my best to provide something to cheer my readers up. My books provide escapism to some gorgeous locations, even if travel to them is currently difficult.

Social Media Links –

Website: www.tawilliamsbooks.com

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/tawilliamsbooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TrevorWilliamsBooks/

My Review

T.A. Williams has gifted us with what we all want right now – escapism. And where better to transport us than to Tuscany, where he adds in an extra bit of glam in the form of Hollywood actors and directors, on top of the beautiful scenery, a stunning villa, gorgeous food, an art-related mystery and the inevitable romance. And, of course, there’s a dog in it – so just about everything I could want from a story.

Did I wish I’d been in Alice’s shoes during that sunny July? You betcha: That said, I was more than happy to tag along with her as she explored Tuscany and found out what she really wanted from her life, too. This was not an angst-filled novel, but more a gentle realisation that some things happen for a reason.

Beautifully written, with enticing descriptions of the Tuscan scenery, plenty of humour, a fascinating mystery, believable characters and Guinness, the Labrador, this proved to be a relaxing read that I didn’t want to put down. Definitely not the last book I’ll read by this author.

‘Cin, cin!’ 😉

 

As always,

art · book review · historical fiction · NetGalley · Renaissance Italy · WWII

Book Review – The Night Portrait

Summary

“This is a truly original novel that has earned its place among my favorite works of historical fiction.”–Jennifer Robson, USA Today bestselling author of The Gown

An exciting, dual-timeline historical novel about the creation of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous paintings, Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, and the woman who fought to save it from Nazi destruction during World War II.

Milan, 1492: When a 16-year old beauty becomes the mistress of the Duke of Milan, she must fight for her place in the palace—and against those who want her out. Soon, she finds herself sitting before Leonardo da Vinci, who wants to ensure his own place in the ducal palace by painting his most ambitious portrait to date.

Munich, World War II: After a modest conservator unwittingly places a priceless Italian Renaissance portrait into the hands of a high-ranking Nazi leader, she risks her life to recover it, working with an American soldier, part of the famed Monuments Men team, to get it back. 

Two women, separated by 500 years, are swept up in the tide of history as one painting stands at the center of their quests for their own destinies.
 

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My Review

Combining two of my favourite topics – WWII and art – I needed no persuasion to read this book. 

It centres on Leonardo da Vinci’s Portrait of a Lady with an Ermine, from the moment he is called upon to paint it in the 15th Century until its many journeys during WWII between Poland and Germany when the portrait was “saved” by the Nazis – read “stolen” – destined for Hitler’s project to have the best art collection in the world. 

Told through four viewpoints, the story spans the centuries connecting the past with the present.  Leonardo and Cecilia (the subject of the portrait and mistress of the Duke of Milan) are the 15th Century perspectives, while the modern day characters are Edith (the art conservator whose role it is – against her will – to list the art on behalf of the Nazi government) and Dominic (one of The Monuments Men tasked with tracking down the stolen art as the war comes to an end).

Their stories weave effortlessly across the timelines, and I particularly enjoyed how she ended a chapter with a certain line, only for the next chapter to start with that line. Though the characters were centuries apart, they shared a vocabulary and a mindset. 

The scenes in Renaissance Italy between Leonardo and Cecilia showed two people, both wanting to make their mark. Leonardo yearned for his ideas on flying and weapon-building to be taken up by the Duke, and agreed to paint the portrait to keep in the Duke’s favour. Cecilia wanted to be more than a nun, after her brothers ruined her chance of marriage in her home village. Once she met the Duke, she had high hopes of being his wife. Needless to say, both Leonardo and Cecilia had unfulfilled dreams, yet their lives were nothing if not extraordinary even after their first encounter. 

Edith objected to being sent to Poland, away from her ailing father who suffered dementia. She objected to the work she was forced to do. It was a moment of clarity that made her realise she had a duty to preserve the art she found, and some day return it to its rightful owners. Dominic, a talented artist himself, wanted at first to have a more proactive role in the war. He felt he had a cushy number, until he too had that moment of clarity and understood that saving the artwork was an important role not just to return it to its owners, but to secure it for future generations.

This is quite a different take on a WWII novel; refreshingly so. It doesn’t gloss over the atrocities at all, but nor are these events at the core of the story. Clearly a lot of research went into this book; its detail is sublime. Fans of historical fiction will be sure to enjoy this book. Highly recommended. 

My thanks go to the publishers – One More Chapter – and Netgalley for the e-copy I received. To the author, Laura Morelli, my congratulations on a great idea, beautifully told. 

As always, 

art · blog tour · book review · crime · mystery · suspense

Blog Tour ‘n’ Book Review – Facing a Twisted Judgment

Facing a Twisted Judgment

by K.J. McGillick

Facing A Twisted Judgment

What happens when tunnel vision clouds a police investigation? Is it true that once you are labeled a person of interest you really are the prime suspect? Can you trust the legal system? Probably not.
After a bitterly contested legal battle over inherited property, the hard-won art collection and its owner Samantha Bennington disappear. Both have vanished without a trace.
When blood spatter is discovered under the freshly painted wall of the room in which two of the paintings were hung, the theft becomes the opening act in a twisted tale of jealousy, revenge, and murder leading to a final judgment for all involved.
As the list of suspects narrows, the focus lands squarely on the husband. Some labeled Samantha’s husband a corrupt attorney, others an opportunist. Either way, he’s in the crosshairs of law enforcement and they are calling him a murderer. But is he the only viable suspect? What about the missing woman’s drug-addicted sister and her convicted felon brother? Both were furious over their loss at court and have more than enough reason to hate Samantha.
Guilty until proven innocent leaves Alexander Clarke facing a twisted judgment.

Purchase Links from Amazon US / UK or marked as “want to read” on Goodreads

My Review

I’ve read a few books by this author before, so I jumped at the chance to be on the blog tour for this one. I was not disappointed.

The story is told in first person, mainly from Dalia’s viewpoint (she’s the former ADA who is looking for a change of direction – and she visits friends only to get sucked into a mystery that could provide the very change she needs, both on the job front and romantically).

Occasionally, there are some chapters giving Alex’s viewpoint – as the main suspect, he offers the reader a chance to take in the facts, and unravel the clues for themselves. A proper “whodunnit”! For me, this was a treat of a book.

The characters here are lively – trust me – they will pull you in and engage with you as though you are a member of the investigation team yourself. I LOVE THAT!

Dalia joins Cillian and his team, and works closely with the police where a romance is in the offing, but never takes you out of the story. Watch out for Mary – she is a star and, even in her nineties, she is totally involved in the case – she knows somebody who knows somebody who knows someone who can … if you get my drift. (Some might say she’s running the whole thing 😉 – just don’t tell Cillian or Jackson I said that!) Her relationship with Jackson will bring a smile to your face – she is a no-nonsense lady, armed with an array of “hand gestures” reserved for him in particular.

My only criticism is that everyone is maybe a little too good-looking, rather like a glossy pilot show to attract your attention, but that aside, it’s a fast-paced and entertaining mystery. It’s well-written and although I did work out the who, where and how long before the reveal, it was engaging and interesting watching the team come to their conclusions.

The twist, while not unexpected, was cleverly woven in but did seem a little rushed at the end. I was pleased to see, however, that there is more to come from these characters. They promise to keep you interested, amused, captivated and wanting more.

Author Bio – K. J. McGillick was born in New York and once she started to walk she never stopped running. But that’s what New Yorker’s do. Right?
As she evolved so did her career choices. After completing her graduate degree in nursing she spent many years in the university setting sharing the dreams of the enthusiastic nursing students she taught. After twenty rewarding years in the medical field she attended law school and has spent the last twenty-four years as an attorney helping people navigate the turbulent waters of the legal system. Not an easy feat. And now? Now she is sharing the characters she loves with readers hoping they are intrigued by her twisting and turning plots and entertained by her writing.

Social Media Links – https://www.facebook.com/KJMcGillickauthor/
Kathleen McGillick
@KJMcGillickAuth
http://www.kjmcgillick.com/
https://twitter.com/KJMcGillickAuth

For more reviews, excerpts and posts, why not check out these other blogs.

As always,

art · blog tour · book launch · book review · crime · Europe · humour

Blog tour ‘n’ Book Review – Right on the Monet

Right on the Monet

by Malcolm Parnell

Right on the Monet

New York

Claude Monet painting is stolen

Mediterranean

Of all the things Harry Chase had imagined in his life, being a drummer on a cruise ship band was not one that would have occurred to him. And yet, there he was. Centre stage, behind a young female singer along with his mates, Dave, Tony and Steve.

Which meant that getting involved in a jewellery theft, an on-board massage parlour and the hunt for an Old Master was even further from his mind as he cracked the snare drum.

And yet, this was exactly how he found himself being questioned by Interpol …..

My review

3.5 stars

I’m a bit of an addict when it comes to art crime, so the moment I read the blurb for this I was begging Rachel @rararesources for a place on the blog tour.

However, as far as the art crime element of this mystery goes, the story falls a little flat for me. The prologue sets the scene after the Monet painting has been stolen from the NYC gallery, then it’s not mentioned again until I’m 45% into the book. At which point, it’s a fleeting remark about the theft and a small reference to a framed print of the stolen painting on sale in the on-board art gallery.

Until that point, the story centres on the gang of six (seven when joined by Clem) and their cruise trip, which also happens to be their first public gig as a band. Don’t get me wrong, the story is jam-packed with funny moments, laugh-out-loud chuckles as a result of well-written dialogue and witty one-liners. That said, it’s also filled to the rafters with sexual innuendo, the like of which I haven’t seen since watching dodgy 1970s sitcoms. In fact, it was turning into a 1970s sitcom on the Love Boat, given the constant sexual objectification of women. For me, some scenes are quite uncomfortable to read, to the extent that skimming became a necessity to avoid my eyes rolling out of my head. I’d go as far to say the characters are clear stereotypes – maybe this was the author’s intention – the women are all ‘painted’ in the style of those “Real Housewives” shows where all they want to do is shop; the narrator (Harry) and Steve are seriously obsessed with ogling and fantasising about women (particularly for Harry, his friend’s wife, and for Steve any woman with a pulse, but especially, lesbian Clem and the sexy Sofia). Dave and Tony bring some balance to the story, as do the other characters involved in the mystery which finally kicks in at 69%.

To be fair, the art mystery does turn out to be quite a good little story when it gets going. Add that to the on-board shenanigans of finding a thief among the crew and/or passengers, the band-playing scenes, and the adventures as they visit several beautiful cities when the ship docks each day, and the subplots all come together well. Maybe I just expected more on the art element; although it’s obvious the author himself loves to paint as he has a real talent for description. Through his words, the MC, Harry, sees the world as a canvas and is able to use his own painting knowledge to contrast the shadiness of the criminal activity on board with the lightness of humour and wit.

If you’re looking for a book to make you chuckle, then this will do just that. It’s probably more aimed at men though, as it does feel a tad dated in terms of the characters’ attitudes to women. A fun, easy-to-read mystery, but you do have to wait some time for the ‘arty-farty’ bit  😉

 

About the author:  Malcolm Parnell has a passion for painting and teaches art and drawing skills when he is not working on his next novel.

His other passion, apart from his good lady wife, Marion, is Leicester City Football Club.

Becoming an author and Leicester win the Premier League have been two of his greatest ambitions realised.

 

Social Media Links:

Twitter – @PaintAuthor

Facebook – malcolmparnellbook

Unfortunately, at the time of posting there were no purchase links available.

Once they arrive from the publisher, the post will be updated accordingly.

 

For more reviews, guest posts and excerpts, take a look at some of the other blogs on this tour.

 

art · book blitz · book excerpt · murder mystery · must-read · psychological suspense · summer reading

Book Blitz – Death in Vermilion

DeathInVermilion.jpg

When you’re packing up your sunscreen and towel, make sure to add Death in Vermilion to your bag, because this is the perfect Summer read!

Death in Vermillion Cover.jpgDeath in Vermilion

Publication Date: April 16th, 2018

Genre: Murder Mystery

A psychological mystery about art and obsession…

Artist Leila Goodfriend is laying down the bones of a painting. When she’s interrupted by Iris, the noisy, unlikeable artist in the studio upstairs, Leila is distracted and annoyed.

When Leila discovers the racket was actually Iris’ dead body hitting the floor, she becomes obsessed: Who murdered Iris?

The other Red Barn Cooperative artists—competitive, jealous and hypocritical—are prime suspects. They all hated Iris. “An artist owes his life to his art,” Iris said.

Iris was good for a laugh. But no one is laughing now.

In this gripping mystery, new author Barbara Elle paints a clever, twisted picture of women and sisters, whose lives are entwined by a brutal murder in a charming Cape Code town.

Alibis fall apart. Plot twists multiply. And Leila comes to a dangerous conclusion.

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Available on Amazon

Excerpt

red-paint-splatter.jpg

Chapter 1

Bellies and Strips

There was no glance more cutting or cruel. The narrowing of unsympathetic eyes a shade of cool, blue slate, like Dylan’s on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited. The imperceptible flare of nostrils, followed by a slow yoga exhalation in Savasana, the corpse. It wasn’t going well.

Leila Goodfriend was laying down the bones of a painting. She took a step back from her easel. A no-name clam shack clung fearlessly as a barnacle to the edge of the old East End pier. A forlorn wooden structure, barely bigger than a Punch & Judy puppet stage, had withstood the fierce winds whipping off the water in the dead of winter. The pier was deserted. Anyone could paint a sunny day.

After outlining the shack in ghostly charcoal strokes, she stood, hand on hip, poised with a palette loaded with ultramarine and cobalt blues for the sky, sap green for foliage, a transparent manganese blue hue for waves in the water, Van Dyck brown for the pier’s planks and Naples Yellow Hue for sunlight. Flake white blobs dabbed in the foreground could be gulls, or children, or discarded clam containers. She hadn’t decided which. Leila loved that shack, the rough pier, and the view of dotted Race Point Lighthouse off the distance. Painting was all about execution, feeling a connection to the subject, the composition, the angles of light. Though local artists mostly painted popular summer scenes of boats and beaches.

That’s what the summer birds, vacationers who nested in the Cape Cod dunes from June until the end of August, bought. Her husband Joe dubbed them the dorks of summer. Leila didn’t care what unflattering name Joe had for them, or whether the summer birds cared as much about this place she called home as she did. She wanted to sell them a painting capturing what she loved about this place.

If she was lucky, and painting was largely a matter of luck, random strokes on the canvas would become a painting, At the Clam Bar: Succulent Bellies and Strips. If one of the summer birds bought her painting, she’d be happy. Even the most dedicated of artists needs affirmation sometimes.

A loud whacking thump overhead jarred Leila rudely from her thoughts; the thud traveled like a jolt of electricity down her spine Immediately, Leila knew the disturbance, of course, was Iris. Iris again. Always Iris. Of the six other artists who called the Red Barn home, her studio had to be, unfortunately, overhead.

And inevitably, as Iris worked, the creaking old floorboards quaked under her relentless assault with her flapping Birkenstock sandals.

Leila complained about Iris to Joe more than once, actually almost every day. It was impossible for someone who barely grazed five feet could make so much noise. Iris could be quiet if she tried, she’d say. She was inconsiderate. She was pompous. “Art,” Iris would say, “has a life of its own and an artist owes his life to his art.” Quoting Iris was good for a laugh.

If Iris bothered her so much, Joe would say, why keep talking about it? Why not rent a different studio? That would make sense, except Leila loved her space, had been there for nearly five years, and was lucky to have found it in this touristy town. Besides, she hated giving in to her own annoyance; she’d learn to ignore Iris if it killed her. Maybe, someday, Iris would just float away like a child’s birthday balloon. No such luck; gravity worked overtime with every tread Iris inflicted in her flapping Birkenstock sandals. Leila fought her first instinct, which was to grab the long, telescoping pole by the casement window, stand on a stool and bang her weapon of choice sharply on the lofty ceiling, twice. It wouldn’t work. It never did. Iris would ignore her.

Instead, Leila turned up NPR on the radio. She could drown out Iris with the sound of undemanding human voices on the radio. NPR was excellent company and, when necessary, excellent white noise. The hourly news, a lengthy interview, a personal piece affected in that breathless NPR accent was the perfect antidote for distraction. And the distraction was usually Iris.

Iris McNeil Thornton was a fellow member of the Red Barn Art Cooperative at Castle Road, which was housed in the happily dilapidated Red Barn Studio. It was high on a hill, overlooking Pamet Marsh, close enough to spy the flights of blue herons and egrets wheeling through the Aliziran Crimson sky, the sun an orb of Cadmium Yellow falling into the salt marshes from her window.

Among the Red Barn’s many charms were the old building’s quirky twists and turns, the sizeable studio spaces with high ceilings from its former life as the Southwind Bros. Button and Snap factory. Leila loved the patina on the old, uneven oak floorboards, the room secreted under the stairwell, doors that jammed and staircases that creaked.

But it was the heady mix of gesso, turp, linseed, pigments, primer, developers and emulsions, the fat smell of oil layered with acrylic resin and a faint dash of watercolor, an acrid, chemical concoction heady in the nasal passages, smells as familiar as the scent of a baby, that made it home.

Not that the Red Barn was without its problems. The daily irritations of artistry and intimacy meant the Red Barn artists were often less than happy. And when the Red Barn artists were less than happy, which occurred as frequently as the tides, they would reach for anything on hand ⎯ brooms, clogs, slammed doors, sighs in the hallways, post-it notes on the bulletin board, giggles behind a back, and any combination thereof ⎯ to convey their displeasure. Under other circumstances such communications might be considered rude, but the Red Barn operated by its own set of rules.

It wasn’t that the Red Barn, a collective space of otherwise solitary individuals, didn’t have its share of fellowship and communal spirit. Sometimes it was nice to see a friendly face.

But, recently, their friendships had been called into question by a series of items gone missing, small stuff, seemingly at random, from their studios, Daklon paintbrush, a can of gesso, and unused tube of paint and a half-used tube of paint. A box of plastic gloves was now empty; which Leila was sure had been half-full. No

one said theft, not at first. It was more like, did I leave this in your studio? did you find this in the bathroom? I must be a little crazy because I was sure I had it, but as the missing items mounted, minor though they were, so did whispering, suspicion, and an uneasy sense someone, maybe one of them, was a thief.

It made Leila uneasy; maybe someone was invading her studio, without her knowing. She debated whether, like Iris, she should lock her door at the end of the day. But she shook it off as unnecessary paranoia and decided to ignore it.

Leila took a deep breath, brushed back her unruly, graying curls, squinting at her canvas. When she painted, the circling steps of the heavy woman upstairs receded from consciousness, and time was suspended.

The wood planks of the pier were muddied. The perspective wasn’t quite right. The colors weren’t right. Leila waggled the end of her paintbrush like a cigar between her lips. It was a messy habit. She looked down at the black-and-white photo of the shack, not that she had any intention of painting the snapshot, any more than a musician only plays the notes.

Leila picked up her palette knife. Shaped like a small trowel for digging in the dirt, its usefulness came from its versatility in blending colors, creating textural effects, or scraping across the surface of a painting to obliterate an offense. Artists can be rough on their work; Leila was her own toughest critic.

The pier had to go. Leila wielded the knife, scraping hard until she hit the tooth of the canvas. She preferred working on a good, tightly woven cotton duck. It wasn’t an inert surface, so it recovered quickly after Leila’s brief attack. She dabbed a rag soaked in turpentine on the wound. The reconstruction of the pier could wait until tomorrow.

What time was it? Leila lost track of time as she worked. She never wore a watch in the studio.

But if she left too late, Joe would be annoyed his port wine reduction for the seared tuna had broken. It wasn’t the sauce—he could revive with a quick whisk of butter on a low heat—it was her spending more and more time at the studio and coming home later. The sky over Cape Cod Bay was a wistful grey heading into night.

Leila put down her palette knife, turned down her radio, and listened. There was quiet, finally quiet, blissful silence.

Now, at the end of the day, Leila had to steel herself for the most infuriating moment of the day: Iris leaving. The torrential thumps of Iris’ flapping Birkenstocks as she gathered up her belongings, slammed the window, searched for her purse, and slammed her door. The old oak boards were punished as as Iris clomped overhead.

The stomp was followed by the slam. Iris was incapable of doing anything quietly. There was some relief in the slam—it meant Iris was no longer overhead. The Red Barn artists never said good night, pretending not to notice each other’s comings and goings. So Leila didn’t expect Iris to poke her head in, or wave when she passed by. However, the daily drama of the swirling clamor that was Iris, like a performer doing a star turn on the stage, made it impossible not to notice her entrances and exits.

Leila walked to the window. The light of an Indian summer day was fading. Sailboats moored in the bay listed drunkenly. Had the final thump earlier signaled Iris’ departure? Leila walked back to her canvas. She recognized this as the same solitary circling as that of her neighbor overhead. It was ironic, but that didn’t stop Iris from being an annoyance.

She put her tools on her workbench. She should rinse them in turpentine and water in the bathroom at the end of the hall—the brushes would be tackier and difficult to clean after drying overnight. Oh well, she’d deal with that in the morning. Grabbing her backpack, she turned out the lights and closed her door. The hallway was silent. The other studio doors on her floor were closed. No Philomena, no Dové.

But something in the quality of the jarring loud noise earlier somehow made the quiet louder.

The stairs were poorly lit, even after Leila switched on the bare bulb dangling overhead. The whole damn place was a fire hazard. She climbed to the second floor. No Liz, no Gretchen. Later, she couldn’t quite explain why hadn’t she gone home.

The crap fixture in the upstairs hall, that never worked right, was out, as usual. The damn, dusty moose head Iris had mounted above her door stared down dolefully through its blind, button eyes. Its antlers wore a fine coat of dust.

Iris’ door was open a crack, which surprised Leila. Iris worked behind closed, locked doors, all day, every day. The other Red Barn artists left their doors open at least a smidgen, not exactly an invitation, but not a deliberately antisocial act. Iris had no such compunctions.

Leila knocked. Silence. She hesitated. Should she leave Iris alone? She took a few steps back toward the stairs, but turned around. What harm was it peeking inside? “Iris, its only me, Leila. ” No answer. “Iris, are you there?”

Leila stared through the crack in the door. At first, she thought the room was empty, but as her eyes adjusted, Leila made out a shape, or maybe a shadow, in the center of the studio.

The value of the only available light source, through the far window, made it difficult to see. Iris refused to use artificial light. She insisted on painting ‘as the Old Masters had’, that is, only by natural light. For a time, she had painted by candlelight, until the Red Barn got wind of it, banning burning candles before Iris burned the place down.

Leila stared at the shape. It didn’t move. Iris never left her door unlocked. Maybe she’d left something behind and would come back for it. Leila pushed the door open further, venturing into the silent studio, under the disapproving gaze of the mildewed moose, inching towards the shadow.

Iris, who incurred the Red Barn artists’ collective ire by deprecating the work of her fellow artists, neglecting to lock the front door, leaving puddles around communal hall sink, and far worse, as the prime suspect in the ongoing war of toilet squatting accusations, that same annoying Iris, was splayed on the floor, eyes wide open, inert as a tube of sepia.

It was a body. Iris’ body. Later, Leila recalled the body like a dead deer, abandoned on the side of the road after an accident. She remembered noting the color of Iris’ skin, like the underpainting of flesh in a neutral shade—what artists called grisaille, or dead coloring.

Ironically, under the circumstances, the scene is not unlike Iris’ own brooding assemblages: the carnage of death, overripe fruit in silver bowls, bird carcasses on platters, and game animals, fresh and bloodied, trophies of the hunt hung in the background, rendered in the style of the Old Masters.

And later, Leila was vaguely ashamed of her observations, her detachment. But, she thought defensively, isn’t observation was a habit developed over a lifetime?

Tentatively, Leila inched forward, reaching out her hand to touch the body. She yanked it back as if it was submerged in a shark tank. Iris was surprisingly warm, alive warm.

As her eyes adjusted to the low light, Leila saw Iris’ blood was a seeping stain from her flowing blue dress onto the floorboards. The red was the red every paint manufacturer had tried, but failed, to capture in a tube. Brilliant, blood red. But the eyes were dead, even if the heart was beating. Leila’s heart dropped a beat. Fear crept up her throat. Leila had to look away; she couldn’t look at those eyes. Should she call out? Is anyone here? But it was better she was alone, even if it was with a dead body. But, Iris wasn’t alone.

A small figure stood—as if on guard—over the body. Leila bent down to look at it: it was a wooden artist’s mannequin, no bigger than a child’s toy, standing guard over Iris. She recognized him immediately.

Jesus, it was Fred, fucking Fred— Leila, in a fanciful mood, had painted the figure to be anatomically correct, as well as well-endowed—who had gone missing from her studio months ago.

But poor Fred, as an eyewitness to a crime, could have nothing to say. There was no doubt he was Fred, and that he belonged to her. Bending down to pick up her missing mannequin, Leila gazed into his dead eyes. What to do?

In truth, she was both embarrassed by her handiwork, and concerned his presence could be construed as evidence at the scene of the crime; she pocketed Fred and in a sleight of hand he disappeared.

Leila didn’t need Fred to paint the picture. Iris prone. The blood. The burnished wood handle of a knife stuck in an ample left breast. Iris had been murdered. Leila didn’t scream. Leila wasn’t a screamer

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About the Author

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Barbara Elle grew up in Boston, but as an adult became a New Yorker. Barbara loves writing about people and places she remembers, so Death In Vermilion is set on Cape Cod, a place of many memories. She continues collecting memories and places, traveling the world with her touring musician husband, whether exploring Buddhist temples in Beijing, crypts in Vienna or Kabuki Theater in Tokyo, in search of new stories to write about. She invariably packs a notebook and her laptop.

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Book Blitz Organized By

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R&R Book Tours

army of authors · art · blog tour · book launch · mystery

Army of Authors Blog Tour – Virginia Winters

Painting of Sorrow

by Virginia Winters

Available to preorder now.

Launches May 15th.

Sarah Downing, an art conservator hiding in witness protection, identifies a lost masterpiece by Caravaggio.

History says it burned in WWII Berlin but here it is, on her easel.

Soon she is fighting to save the painting and her own life.

Who has betrayed Sarah—an agent, a friend? Whoever it was, her ex-husband Jimmy is standing on her street, outside her house, waiting.

What Sarah does next sends her from Kingston to Italy to rural Ontario in her desperate attempt to survive, save the Caravaggio and rebuild her life with a new love.

This one is heading straight for my TBR pile!

Here, Virginia tells us how she came to write this story:

I began Painting of Sorrow because I was interested in lost and destroyed paintings of WWII. Searching for paintings that could have been saved but were said not to be, brought me to the Flakturm Friedrichshain in Berlin, an anti-aircraft tower used to house a bomb shelter and a hospital as well as the paintings of the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum. More than four hundred paintings and three hundred sculptures were burned, stolen, or destroyed by bombs in the waning days of WWII. Did the Soviets loot the building before it burned? Or were some of the paintings stolen when the Soviet guards were inexplicably removed?

One such painting was called variously Portrait of Fillide or Portrait of a Courtesan, a work by Caravaggio. Client Simon Wolf brings a copy of the painting to be conserved by the firm where Sarah Downing works.

Is it a copy or an original? It’s Sarah job to conserve it but she wants to know the truth about the painting.

Sarah is a painter as well as an art conservator. Her mind reacts to situations, landscapes, and people by seeing paintings in her memory that describe them. Throughout the book, images of paintings also reflect her emotional state and her fears.

Early in the book, the director of the Art Gallery that is housed in the building where she works, frightens Sarah. Her mind brings up a picture of St. Jerome, an almost cadaveric man pictured in a desert, by Da Vinci. The taut skin of his face reveals the skull beneath.

Sarah escapes a killer with her friend Peg. On the way, they stop at a lookout over Mazinaw Lake. Casson painted the iconic Bon Echo Rock there.

Later, approaching the security of a remote cabin in rural Ontario, she sees the building as a painting by A. Y. Jackson, Settler’s Home and somehow felt safer, for the moment.

Her visions become darker and when she finds her new love Simon, beaten by her ex-husband, The Death of Marat by David, a nightmare of a painting intrudes on her thoughts. At the hospital, the controlled chaos of Emergency Room, by Fiona Rae reflects the roiling state of her emotions.

Much later, arriving to Simon’s home, afraid that all chance of a relationship with him has gone, she sees not his house, but Carl Schaefer’s Ontario Farmhouse, dark clouds looming over it, perhaps an omen for her future

I hope interested readers will search out the paintings mentioned in the book to gain a fuller understanding of Sarah and the events that changed her life.

You can find out more about Virginia here.

Find the Painting of Sorrow here.

If you decide to grab a copy, be sure to leave a review for Virginia.

Reviews keep authors writing! 

Thanks for reading.

art · Casualty of Court · culture · MOOC · mystery · series · thought provoking · Why write

Arty-farty? Moi?

Maybe just a little bit, but hopefully not in an annoying way.

I’m still me – none of those hoity-toity airs and graces to be found here. Just the kid from the council estate with a keen curiosity for something a little different. I don’t know where it came from, though – this sudden love of paintings. It kind of snuck up on me. Although, I do remember feeling ecstatic when my pastel version of Van Gogh’s sunflowers was put on display in the school corridor when I was twelve.
Not that I developed any further skill after that. I may have peaked too soon, resorting to paint by number kits after my family members erupted in laughter at my efforts during a game of Pictionary (Seriously, it was only meant to be a finger …)

A BBC programme – Fake or Fortune – in 2011 triggered something deep in the recesses of my mind, introducing me to a new kind of mystery: art and culture crime.  The series featured journalist, Fiona Bruce and art dealer Philip Mould — dubbed “the art detective” — and, together, they investigated remarkable stories delving beneath the surface of paintings. From Paris and Amsterdam to Cape Town, the banks of the Nile, and New York, the team employed old-fashioned detective skills and the latest forensic testing to reveal compelling tales of lost masterpieces, forgers and Nazi-looted art.

OMG! I was hooked.

I had to have more. And more is exactly what I found in the form of a course about Antiquities Trafficking & Art Crime run by the University of Glasgow. (I sound almost cultured now, don’t I? Don’t worry, it’s all a front – as my mum would say ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’.)

This course was dynamite, firing off all sorts of explosions in my curious mind. I learnt about the looting of cultural treasures from archaeological sites around the world; smuggling networks; the demand for illicit antiquities; high-end art heists; fraud and forgery; art vandalism and thankfully also about repatriation, recovery and return of those stolen, priceless pieces.

Brain overload … yet, I wanted more … and not just a weekly newsletter about the progress being made in finding these lost works of art, or more awful news of another heist or a site being plundered.

It’s at this point my mind did a little flip – and a sequel I was writing (Casualty of Court) morphed into a series.

Hey presto, the Blackleaf Agency was born and my newly qualified PIs were thrown into the murky depths of the art world.

It meant I could pursue my love of writing and combine it with my other unhealthy obsession, that of endless, methodical, jaw-dropping, fascinating research into a topic that had inspired, educated, and enthralled me. Not a bad way to pass the time, is it?

Doing something you love is not always an option, so I’m going to enjoy it while I can.

So, to answer my own question: am I arty farty?  Not in the pretentious, snobbish way (I hope), but when it comes to a mystery in that scintillating, almost out-of-reach world then I’m in up to my neck – granted that’s probably only waist-high for most people, but it’s a serious immersion for me 🙂 and I’m more than happy to be there.

Thanks for reading 🙂

art · Casualty of Court · cosy · crime · culture · Europe · food and drink · lost art · mystery · pets · The Blackleaf Agency · The Fifth Wheel

The Blackleaf Agency

I’ve been writing a lot recently about the characters of Casualty of Court, but you may have noticed it’s part of a series. Don’t worry if you missed that – I’ll be banging on about it quite a lot from here on 🙂

The Blackleaf Agency Series.

The Fifth Wheel (creatively titled as Book 0 in the series) is the prequel, and sets up the story for the court trial in Casualty of Court (Book 1). However, that is just the start. (I know, starting at 1, it’s a genius move, isn’t it? So under-done 😉 )

You see, Book 1 only introduces the reader to The Blackleaf Agency.

The first case for the newly qualified Raven and her business partner, Fern, happens in Book 2:

Heirlooms & Heiresses.

Are you still with me?

In H&H, The Blackleaf Private Investigations Agency is employed by the local hotelier, initially to root out the culprit behind a series of petty thefts occurring in the hotel. However, before Raven even checks in as a mystery guest, a bigger case unravels. A guest reports a painting has been ‘stolen’ from her room. The thief, however, is known to her and she seeks The Agency’s help in recovering it – from her brother.

What transpires is a sibling dispute over an inheritance.

Proving the value and the provenance of the artwork takes the new investigators to The Netherlands, where links to WWII reveal the painting has both historical and cultural worth.

H&H is a cosy mystery filled with humour and intrigue, set in beautiful locations in the UK and The Netherlands. Naturally, there’s some tasty food and a pet in the mix – well, it wouldn’t be a cosy without them, would it?

While the art-related story covers the “Heirloom” element of the title, another case awaits the agency back at the hotel – one with personal ramifications this time. This is where the story picks up a thread from Casualty of Court, reintroducing familiar characters and a case of child abduction (the “Heiress”). (Spoiler alert! Not really – I’ll not going to say any more of this here – at least, not until CofC has been released)

I’m three-quarters through writing this book, and am planning Book 3 as I write this.

Again, it will have an arty theme and will be set in more stunning European locations.

Druids & Drachmas

D&D sees The Agency investigating a case surrounding an architectural dig in Greece, and there’s an event going on in Ireland that might just add an extra zing of romance to this book.

This one is in the very early stages, so I can’t tell you any more (well, I could, but then I’d have to kill you – and then I’d have no readers!)

Wondering why I chose to write a series?

(I thought you’d never ask!)

Well my interest in art and culture crime was piqued after I did a course on the subject online – and there really is no end to the possibilities that such a theme can conjure up. The characters from The Fifth Wheel – initially just a short story for an anthology – got under my skin and I didn’t want to say goodbye to them. So, the idea of putting my imaginary friends into the fascinating world of art crime and mixing in my love of European countries and culture took root. Hey presto, the rest is pure fiction 🙂

I hope you stay around and grow to love them too. You can sign up to my newsletter from the sidebar – then you’ll never miss another second. Go on, you know you want to.

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Thanks for reading 🙂

Casualty of Court is available to pre-order now as an ebook, releasing March 21st 2018. Click here to view on Amazon

In the meantime, you can read The Fifth Wheel – A Prequel now and find out how it all began.

If you want to catch up on my Character Interviews, here’s the first one.

 

art · change · fun · happiness

A different kind of therapy

Spring time is normally the time of year when we look to redecorate our homes, but for me, it’s summer when I most feel like a change. Maybe it’s because I was a summer baby and this is when one years ends for me and the next begins. But, whatever the reason, my latest form of therapy is giving a whole new look to the place where I spend most of my time.

So, whilst it’s not exactly ‘out with the old, in with the new’, I have made a few thrifty purchases. I’ve become a regular on Ebay, which has led to me find some great bargains (who doesn’t like a bargain?) and some perfect accessories to give my home a whole new vibe.

But it’s not all about buying stuff. Indeed not – I’ve been up-cycling too, transforming some shabby looking furniture into something more  chic and fresh. It’s amazing what a coat or two of paint, a sanding block and some colourful fabric can do.

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This is my latest piece of wall art  on my stairway – a stencil – to add a touch of positivity and keep the Spanish feeling: it translates as “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain!”

I still have a few more mini projects to complete, but I am loving the transformation thus far.

Next job is to create a truly Mediterranean kitchen – you might need sunglasses for what I have planned!

🙂 Happy Home = Happy Family 🙂