Catriona writes: I'm delighted to welcome my friend and Sister (in Crime) Susan Shea here to Fatal Acres today. I've been a huge fan of Susan's Dani O'Rourke series of mysteries, since I bought her debut when we met at a signing. I was tickled to find a book set in my new city of San Francisco, written by an SF insider, and full of all the glamour and dash I couldn't quite believe I was this close to yet. Then about six months later, at another signing, I bought it again. Now that's a fan. Well, actually that's a person whose houseguest picked it up, got hooked and took it home to read on the plane. No names - you know who you are.
And I'm particularly happy Susan is here today - today is the launch day of Dani No. 3 - Mixed Up in Murder. Join me in saying Happy Book Birthday!
And now here's Susan:
Who would think there’s much drama and intrigue swirling around a beautiful painting? We might expect it around a hoard of diamonds, but would people really kill for a bunch of paintings?
For a handful of years, I’ve been writing a mystery series that revolves around art and money. The idea of combining the two in crime fiction struck home for me in the late 1990s when I began reading a large, glossy magazine called ART + AUCTION. The pages were increasingly devoted to the efforts of internationally known gallerists and the big auction houses that seemed to be abetting each others’ goals of ratcheting up prices for the best known work of the 20th century. I became intrigued at the feeding frenzy, first around the Impressionists’ work (Renoir, Matisse, Monet), then, as their available paintings were snapped up, for work from the 1940s and later (Picasso, of course, but Modigliani, Klimt, Warhol, Basquiat). As more buyers with breathtaking amounts of available money came rushing into the market, Chinese contemporary art (and antique art) became the next hot item.
It’s not that the best work of the most famous artists hasn’t always been pricey. But there were differences before 2000. For one thing, outstanding works came to the “secondary” market (not being sold directly by the artist through his or her primary gallery, but being re-sold) more slowly – someone died and his collection was sold off by the family, or a longtime collector made the difficult decision to release something wonderful in order to buy something else. Collectors took chances on unproven artists of their own eras because they loved the work and thought it had lasting power. They bought the famous artists – or forgeries, as happened now and then – because they thought they were “safe.” They bought work from non-Western countries that had been frankly looted, because until recently that was considered fair game.
The world of art sales has changed dramatically in recent years, and for a number of reasons. You’ve heard the argument that the rich are getting richer? Well, that’s true. And if you are in that class of hedge fund directors, captains of industry, and high tech wizards, you have a whole lot of cash and an incentive not to have to pay taxes on all of it. Before about 2008, you could send some of it to your private Swiss bank account, immune to prying eyes and calculators. But that wall of secrecy began to crumble (and is now gone for Swiss accounts held by Americans) and a whole lot of money moved out of those vaults in a hurry. The auction and secondary art markets had stalled a bit when the U.S. economy stumbled in 2008, but then went kind of nuts. Huge amounts being paid – over $100 million in some cases - often by shell companies.
It wasn’t only American moguls flooding the market with cash. Chinese executives working behind the façade of the Party, African dictators plundering natural resources, Mexican drug lords, Russian oligarchs…you get the picture. Of course, most sales are open, transparent, and clean. But when so much money is floating around, and art is being used as currency, the vultures, the scammers, the robbers and the desperate are lurking. And it’s a fertile ground for someone who loves art and writes crime fiction.
My first Dani mystery revolved around the work of a young artist just bursting into the big time. The second was about an old object that goes missing right before the billionaire who owned it was going to give it to a museum. The new book, MIXED UP WITH MURDER, is about an impressive collection of contemporary art that a Silicon Valley venture capitalist is in an awful hurry to give to his alma mater. In all three, the basic theme plays out: ART+MONEY=CRIME.
SUSAN C SHEA spent more than two decades accumulating story material before creating her best-selling mystery series featuring a professional fundraiser for a fictional museum in San Francisco: MURDER IN THE ABSTRACT, THE KING’S JAR, and MIXED UP WITH MURDER (Feb. 2016). A new, three-volume set will be released in early 2016. Currently the secretary of the national Sisters in Crime board, she’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, and blogs on 7CriminalMinds. www.susancshea.com