“I have a painting I could sell you.”

The book I’m working on has an art theft as one of its subplots, and as part of my research, I’ve read several books and had google alerts on the subject. It happens far more often than one might expect, but yet isn’t as glamorous as movies and television (and sometimes books) like to imagine.

The first art theft I remember clearly was in 2004, when thieves broke into the Munch museum in Oslo, Norway and stole Edvard Munch’s famous paintings The Scream and Madonna. The paintings weren’t recovered until 2006 and both had sustained damage. I especially remember this theft as I had been to Oslo several times and had seen versions of the paintings at the Nasjonalgalleriet, but not at the Munch museum. (A version of The Scream displayed at the Nasjonalgalleriet had been stolen in 1994 around the time of the Olympics in Lille. Its theft and recovery are detailed in the book ‘The Rescue Artist’ by Edward Dolnick.)

Rarely are stolen artworks as famous as The Scream. If my regular google news alert bulletin is any indication, paintings, sculptures and various other forms of art are regularly stolen from galleries, education institutions and public areas.

Sculptures made of metal are often targeted, as they are a quick source of a few hundred dollars when sold for scrap. Paintings are stolen for any number of reasons: famous works can be targeted for activist/political reasons, or are often used as currency by drug dealers and gangs. It is unlikely, though romantic, to think that a lot of art is stolen to order, on the whim of someone rich. There’s too much at stake when a famous work of art goes missing.

My recommended reads:

  • The Rescue Artist (Edward Dolnick)
  • The Art of the Steal (Christopher Mason)
  • Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures (Robert K. Wittman)

Book Review: A Marriage of Inconvenience, & The Sergeant’s Lady by Susanna Fraser

I read ‘A Marriage of Inconvenience‘ first, though it was the second published. Lucy Jones is a poor relation, forced to accept charity from her wealthy relatives. She’s perfected the art of being inconspicuous; anything to please her relatives and keep them from removing their support of her and her brothers. When her cousin Sebastian, whom she’s always fancied, proposes marriage, she’s delighted to accept, but the family wants it kept secret.

She meets James Wright-Gordon, Viscount Selsley (and brother to Anna, mentioned below), and when the families come together for the marriage of Lucy’s cousin Portia, Sebastian falls for Anna. Suddenly Lucy’s quiet and ordered life is in disarray. When she’s caught in a compromising position with James, a marriage is swiftly arranged. However, family secrets will out, and the result could damage everything.

The relationship between Lucy and Selsley starts off quite naturally, during a chance encounter, and it continues throughout the novel. I thought them very well matched, and became quite fond of Selsley’s gentlemanly manner. Enough so that I almost immediately wished for Lucy to have the courage to break off her engagement to Sebastian. I felt angry on Lucy’s behalf, having to put up with miserable relatives (especially her cousin Portia), and I hoped that things would turn out for the best. Even after marriage, new difficulties arise, and James and Lucy have to figure out how to make things work.

The story of the Wright-Gordons and Arringtons continues with the novel ‘The Sergeant’s Lady’. If you want to read in the story’s chronological order, this would be your second book. However, if you prefer to read in publication order, you’ll want to read this before ‘A Marriage of Inconvenience.’

In ‘The Sergeant’s Lady‘, Anna Wright-Gordon is following the drum, joining the English army under Wellington as they pursue and challenge Napoleon. If you’re a reader (or watcher) of the Sharpe series, you’ll likely be familiar with the setting and the war. She’s married a cavalry officer, Sebastian Arrington, and has no choice but to accompany him. When her domineering husband dies, all she wants to do is leave Spain and return to her home. She meets a sergeant, Will Atkins, and their attraction grows. However, she is a viscount’s daughter, and he’s a commoner, an innkeeper’s son. All common sense says that they ought to keep to their social stations, but of course, if they did that, we wouldn’t have a story to read.

The drama starts with Anna’s husband’s death and doesn’t end for another ninety thousand words. The book was so engaging that I was hard-pressed to put it down. Anna is a likable and realistic character. One can hardly believe that she’s the daughter of a viscount, given her ability to adapt to the hard conditions of following the drum. Due to her awful husband, she hasn’t much confidence in certain respects, but she manages to survive a great deal.

I loved the attraction and romance between her and Will Atkins. War (and other life-threatening situations) puts things in true perspective: social class differences really don’t matter very much when you’re on the field of battle, or escaping from French soldiers. These societal constructs only start to matter once one is back in safety. My favourite scenes were ones that dealt with these issues, whether Anna and Will were fighting their mutual attraction, or trying to decide whether they wanted to challenge the status quo.

I’d highly recommend both books; whether you read them in order of publication (or not), they’re fantastic.

Check out Susanna Fraser’s website and her work on sale at Carina Press.