<i>Secrecy World</i>: Excerpt Secrecy World: Excerpt Jake Bernstein An inside look at the world revealed by the Panama Papers. <i>Hunter Killer</i>: Excerpt Hunter Killer: Excerpt David Poyer World War with China explodes in this new military thriller. Review: <i>The Best American Mystery Stories 2017</i> Review: The Best American Mystery Stories 2017 David Cranmer Read David Cranmer's review! <i>Blood Business</i>: Excerpt Blood Business: Excerpt Joshua Viola and Mario Acevedo An anthology of noir tales and crime stories from this world and beyond.
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Showing posts by: Lance Charnes click to see Lance Charnes's profile
Nov 12 2017 10:00am

Lance Charnes Excerpt: Stealing Ghosts

Lance Charnes

Stealing Ghosts by Lance Charnes is the second book in the DeWitt Agency Files series (available November 17, 2017).

Dorotea DeVillardi is 91 years old, gorgeous, and worth a fortune. Matt Friedrich's going to steal her.

The Nazis seized Dorotea's portrait from her Viennese family, then the Soviets stole it from the Nazis. Now it's in the hands of a Russian oligarch. Dorotea's corporate-CEO grandson played by the legal rules to get her portrait back, but he struck out. So he's hired the DeWitt Agency to get it for him - and he doesn't care how they do it.

Now Matt and Carson, his ex-cop partner, have to steal Dorotea's portrait from a museum so nobody knows it's gone, and somehow launder its history so the client doesn't have to hide it forever. The client's saddled them with a babysitter: Dorotea's granddaughter Julie, who may have designs on Matt as well as the painting. As if this wasn't hard enough, it looks like someone else is gunning for the same museum—and he may know more about Matt and Carson's plans than he should.

Matt went to prison for the bad things he did at his L.A. art gallery. Now he has a chance to right an old wrong by doing a bad thing for the best of reasons. All he has to do is stay out of jail long enough to pull it off.

[Read an excerpt from Stealing Ghosts...]

Jun 15 2017 11:00am

The Fall of the House of Knoedler

Knoedler & Company began in 1846 as the Manhattan outpost of the French printmaker Goupil et Cie. It was America’s first storefront art gallery; it predated the Metropolitan Museum of Art by 24 years. During the Gilded Age, Knoedler moved from peddling inexpensive prints to dealing Old Master artworks to the likes of Vanderbilt, Morgan, and Frick.

By 1970, the new breed of robber barons had different tastes. Knoedler was in trouble. Oil tycoon Armand Hammer bought the place in 1971 and installed new management who made the leap to selling Modern art (roughly, Impressionism and its sequels to 1940). It also went back to its roots by selling original prints by LeRoy Neiman, who was huge back then.

The gallery began representing big-name artists such as Richard Diebenkorn and Robert Rauschenberg. Its age and reputation made it a go-to place for purchasing Modern and contemporary art. Being displayed in or represented by Knoedler could be a huge boost for an artist’s career.

[Read more about the fall of Knoedler...]

Mar 30 2017 2:00pm

Operation Antiquity: From Thailand with Love

A crowd gathered outside the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, on the morning of January 24, 2008. They weren’t museum junkies; they were federal agents raiding the place. By the end of the day, 500 FBI, IRS, and Customs agents had hit the Bowers and 12 other targets, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Diego’s Mingei International Museum, the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena, the Silk Roads Design Gallery in Los Angeles, and Barry MacLean, a private collector in Chicago. In all, agents seized over 10,000 smuggled antiquities from Thailand, Cambodia, Burma, and China.

Rewind to the late 1970s.

Robert Olson, a former steel salesman, went to a friend’s wedding in Thailand. There, he bought some antique pottery from Ban Chiang, a Neolithic settlement in the country’s far northeast.

When he returned to Los Angeles, Olson decided to sell his 73-piece Native America ladle collection. He contacted Armand Labbé, the Bowers Museum’s chief curator, in 1979. Olson says Labbé offered to take half the ladles as a donation and would arrange for someone to buy the other half for $10,000. And, by the way, those Thai pots are nice—can you get more?

[Oh, the power of greed...]

Feb 9 2017 12:00pm

Gray Market: Crime and the Art Market by Riah Pryor

Crime and the Art Market by Riah Pryor brings together the author’s direct experience from both fields to present an accessible, informative, and realistic overview of art crimes in today’s society.

Art-related crime is a busy book genre these days. Most of these books are very specific—one case, one career, one theme—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a huge topic. What’s rare is a general survey of art-related crime that’s both serious and accessible.

That’s where Riah Pryor’s newish book Crime and the Art Market comes in. It delves into the underpinnings of the collision between, yes, crime and the art market, looking at the assumptions we’ve come to be comfortable with and asking sometimes sticky questions about the whos, whys, and hows.

[Read Lance Charnes's review of Crime and the Art Market...]

Nov 7 2016 9:00am

The Collection: New Excerpt

Lance Charnes

The Collection by Lance Charnes is an art thriller and the 1st book in the DeWitt Agency Files series (Available November 14, 2016). 

Four years ago, what Matt Friedrich learned at work put him in prison. Yesterday, it earned him a job. Tomorrow, it may kill him.

Matt learned all the angles at his old Los Angeles gallery: how to sell stolen art, how to “enhance” a painting’s history, how to help buyers hide their purchases from their spouses or the IRS. He made a load of money doing it—money he poured into the lawyer who worked a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney. Matt’s out on parole and hopelessly in debt with no way out ... until a shadowy woman from his past recruits him to find a cache of stolen art that could be worth millions.

Now Matt’s in Milan, impersonating a rich collector looking for deals. He has twenty days to track down something that may not exist for a boss who knows a lot more than she’s telling. He’s saddled with a tough-talking partner who may be out to screw him and up against a shady gallerist whom Matt tried to send to prison. His parole officer doesn’t know he’s left the U.S. Worse yet, what Matt’s looking for may belong to the local branch of the Calabrian mafia.

Matt’s always been good at being bad. If he’s good enough now, he gets a big payday with the promise of more to come. But one slip in his cover, one wrong word from any of the sketchy characters surrounding him, could hand Matt a return trip to jail ... or a long sleep in a shallow grave.

[Read an excerpt from The Collection...]

Oct 27 2016 11:00am

Van Gogh Goes to Italy: Oil and Cocaine Do Mix

In December 2002, two burglars broke into the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. They didn’t use helicopters or lasers or any of the stuff art thieves use in the movies; they climbed a fifteen-foot ladder to the roof and got into the second floor (European first floor), where the main display halls are. They tripped alarms, but the police didn’t respond. When they busted a window and slid down a rope to get to the ground, they had souvenirs: two van Gogh oils.

Both came from early in van Gogh’s artistic career. He created View of the Sea at Scheveningen, his only surviving seascape, in 1882 after only a year of practice at painting. Two years later, he gave Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church in Nuene (where his father was pastor) to his mother to amuse her after she’d broken her leg. Because they were such early works and showed van Gogh’s development as an artist, they were considered especially valuable … but apparently not valuable enough to insure. Eventually, the figure $100 million got attached to them, but it’s anyone’s guess.

[It's not very easy to sell stolen art on eBay...]

Oct 12 2016 10:00am

One Giant Gomorrah to Destroy

Gomorrah (Picador Press) is Roberto Saviano’s bestselling account of the Camorra’s audacious corruption of Naples and beyond in the 1990s and 2000s.

In December 1991, Giuseppe (Don Peppino) Diana, the doomed parish priest of the Neapolitan suburb of Casal di Principe, published an open letter to his parishioners called “For the Love of My People I Will Not Stay Silent.”

The Camorra today is a form of terrorism that arouses fear and imposes its own laws in an attempt to become an endemic element of Campania society. Weapons in hand, the Camorristi violently impose unacceptable rules: extortions that have turned our region into subsidized areas with no potential on their own for development; bribes of 20 percent or more on construction projects, which would discourage the most reckless businessman; illicit traffic in narcotics, whose use creates gangs of marginalized youngsters and unskilled workers at the beck and call of criminal organizations… veritable laboratories of violence and organized crime.

Don Peppino’s outspokenness eventually killed him in 1994. As in “Eleanor Rigby,” no one was saved.

[Read more about the book that spawned the TV series Gomorrah...]

Aug 31 2016 1:00pm

Crime Under the Volcano: Introducing Gomorrah

Naples is one of the oldest continuously-occupied cities in the world, but it’s mostly known for three things: pizza (most of the pizza we eat is Neapolitan-style), Mt. Vesuvius, and being perhaps the most spectacularly corrupt city in Italy. This last is quite an accomplishment, something like being the tallest man in the NBA. As you might expect for such a place, Naples has its very own mafia—the Camorra, which has been around for so long that no one knows exactly when it started.

Americans are used to the Sicilian mafia, which gained prominence during Prohibition and spawned slews of movies and TV series. They’ve mostly never heard of the Camorra. The Sundance Channel aims to fix this by importing the most popular series on current Italian TV: Gomorrah.

[Read more about your newest TV obsession...]

Jul 14 2016 1:30pm

She’s Gonna Make It After All: Queen of the South

In 1970, TV gave us the tale of a spunky, single young woman who moves to the big city and finds career success, friendship, and love, while rising through a cutthroat business and having to navigate the many men in her work and private lives. Her name was Mary, and there’s now a statue of her tossing her cap into the air in downtown Minneapolis.

Now, we have another story of another spunky, single young woman who moves to the big city and finds career success, friendship, and love, while rising through a cutthroat business and navigating the many men in her work and private lives. This time, her name is Teresa, the city is Dallas, and I sincerely doubt she’ll ever get a statue. The business is drug trafficking, not TV news (wait—there’s a difference?), and while they’re both brunettes, Teresa is the anti-Mary.

Queen of the South is a USA Network original series, based loosely on the successful telenovela La Reina del Sur, which, in turn, was based on the bestselling novel by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. At heart, it’s a Horatio Alger story for the 21st Century, with a much higher body count.

[Read more about Queen of the South...]

Jul 7 2016 12:00pm

Elementary, Rembrandt: Reviewing The Scientist and the Forger by Dr. Jehane Ragai

The Scientist and the Forger by Dr. Jehane Ragai outlines the advanced forensic techniques being developed to help thwart art forgery.

If you’ve watched CSI or any of the other TV forensic procedurals, you know that science has jumped into the crime-solving pool with both feet. Advances in DNA analysis, latent-print recovery, forensic botany, and a host of other processes have helped clear decades-old cold cases, exonerate the wrongly accused, and catch villains who would’ve escaped just a few years ago. Your average big-city detective would now no more leave her criminalist at the station than she would her sidearm or badge.

Science has gone boho to help answer one of the thornier questions in art: is that painting real? This is the story Dr. Jehane Ragai tells us in The Scientist and the Forger: Insights into the Scientific Detection of Forgery in Paintings.

Art forgery has been a problem since Roman workshops started making knockoffs of Greek statues two thousand years ago. Until relatively recently, though, detecting fakes has been the sole province of art connoisseurs, who could make a piece worthless or priceless with an opinion—even if that opinion turned out to be wrong.

[Read Lance Charnes's review of The Scientist and the Forger...]

Jun 30 2016 3:30pm

Hairy-raising: Cleverman

We Homo sapiens have gotten pretty used to being the only humanoid species on Earth. So, what would happen if we somehow ran across a cousin species—perhaps a somewhat better design? What if that species also happened to be dark-skinned? It doesn’t take much brainpower to write that scenario; we’ve got 5,000 years of experience in intra-species cruelty and oppression to draw from. Now, how would it go if an indigenous superhero took up that cousin species’ cause?

That’s Cleverman, a joint production by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Sundance Studios that debuted June 1st on the Sundance Channel.

[What a clever title...man]

Jun 13 2016 1:00pm

Locks and the City: Reviewing A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

A Burglar's Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh encompasses nearly 2,000 years of heists and tunnel jobs, break-ins and escapes, offering an unexpected blueprint to the criminal possibilities in the world all around us.

We think we know how buildings work. You pass through doors, look through windows, hang pictures on walls, walk on floors, and ignore ceilings (unless they leak).

Burglars have different ideas. They ignore doors, pass through walls, hang pictures on windows, walk on ceilings, and cut through floors. They subvert the very notion of a building; theirs is an architectural crime.

That’s the thesis of Geoff Manaugh, author of A Burglar’s Guide to the City—where architectural criticism collides with true-crime reporting. He believes that burglary is nothing less than a radical reinterpretation of structure and urban design.

[Read Lance Charnes's review of A Burglar's Guide to the City...]

Jun 7 2016 2:30pm

No, No, Bad Cat: The Last Panthers

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”
-William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun

The series of brutal civil wars that tore apart the Balkans between 1991 and 2001 left behind some 140,000 dead, another four million displaced, and ruined cities throughout the former Yugoslavia. The economic and social consequences still echo today. Few in the West can hear them.

The Last Panthers, a six-part Sundance series that ended on May 18th, is in many ways a war story as well as a crime thriller. Most of its principal characters were molded, scarred, or crippled by the Yugoslav wars. The corruption, gangster activity, and casual murder they practice now are continuations of the tactics employed by all sides twenty years ago. The Balkans have never been a happy place; they look particularly bleak in this series.

[Read Lance Charnes's wrap up of The Last Panthers...]

May 31 2016 3:00pm

Your Room Is Ready: Reviewing The Night Manager Miniseries

If you’ve made your name writing about Cold War espionage, what do you do when the Cold War ends? If you’re John le Carré, you take a vacation, and then you turn your attention to all the other bad subterranean business in the world.

The Night Manager was le Carré’s first post-Soviet novel, showing that old dogs can still bite. Two film companies tried and failed to adapt the book for theaters. The BBC and AMC succeeded: their six-episode adaptation of The Night Manager gives the story room to breathe.

[Read more about The Night Manager...]

Apr 19 2016 1:00pm

In the (Pale) Pink: The Last Panthers

They really existed, you know. The Pink Panthers.

The Panthers were a confederation of Balkan thieves, many with military experience in the Bosnian and Kosovar wars of the 90s, who in 2000 started pulling off hundreds of audacious heists around the world. The Daily Mail gave them the name after they hit Graff Diamonds for £23 million in what was then the biggest jewel heist in British history. The thieves would disappear into the shadows in Serbia or Montenegro and live quietly with the complicity of corrupt or suborned local officials. Then in the late 2000s, INTERPOL formed the Pink Panther Working Group, the police agencies of Europe started sharing information, and the lure of EU membership inspired various Balkan states to crack down on their wayward sons and daughters. The old guard is mostly gone, now, replaced by a new generation that isn’t so careful, or skilled, or slick.

The Last Panthers, a British/French co-production, is about this changing of the guard, the ghosts of the past, and the bonds of family.

[“It's like you are some angel of death.”]

Apr 11 2016 4:00pm

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh NguyenThe Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen features a captivating, duplicitious narrator who's a communist sleeper agent living in America after the Vietnam War. Nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

While it’s likely that the Vietnam War spawned many bookshelves full of novels written by Vietnamese authors, an awfully small number of these are in English. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer is one of these, a mordant, discursive recounting of the South Vietnamese exile experience from the fall of Saigon to the early Reagan years.

  The unnamed narrator – The Captain – is a man of two faces and two minds, caught between two worlds. Born in the North to a French priest and a Viet teenager, he goes to college in America, then returns to his homeland to support the North in the endless Vietnamese civil war. He becomes an aide to The General, the acting head of the South’s secret police, helping arrest and torture alleged communist spies while he sends secrets to the real communist spies he works for. When Saigon goes down for the count, The Captain’s handler orders him to go to America to keep tabs on The General and his entourage.

[Read Lance Charnes' review of The Sympathizer now!]

Feb 25 2016 12:00pm

Vive la Résistance: Colony

Alien invasions on the big and small screens have rarely been about aliens. They’re usually metaphors for whatever the scare-of-the-year happens to be: Nazis, communism, religion, lack of religion, race, colonialism, etc. Today’s scare-of-the-decade is terrorism and our response to it.

What’s the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter? What’s the difference between proactive policing and oppression? Can a tyrant’s collaborator have good motives? Can a self-proclaimed “freedom fighter” have bad ones? Whose point-of-view gets to control the narrative?

An alien invasion makes it safe to ask all these questions in Colony, a USA Network series created by Carlton Cuse (Lost) and Ryan Condal (Hercules).

[Are you watching Colony?]

Dec 14 2015 2:25pm

Cleaning Up: Spotless

After the detectives have gone and CSI gets done picking dandruff out of the shag carpet; after the police barrier tape comes down…then what?

Someone’s gotta clean up the mess. The crime-scene cleaning industry is probably the only part of the crime world that hasn’t been explored/exploited onscreen (Amy Adams’s Sunshine Cleaning doesn’t really count). Those poor guys get all the gore and glop the cops do, but don’t get a Bruckheimer series made about them.

Until now, that is.

[Clean up, aisle murder...]

Oct 28 2015 4:00pm

Da Vinci’s Spooks: Intelligence

Mounties aside, we in the U.S. don’t usually think of Canada as the sort of place that would spawn a great TV police show. (Insert polite-criminal joke here.) Yet it did: Da Vinci’s Inquest has been called by some the best crime series ever made. Premiering at the same time as The Sopranos, it won the Gemini – the Canadian version of the Emmy – for Best Dramatic Series five times during its seven seasons. The New York Times said it resembled “the good, early days of N.Y.P.D. Blue or ER.”

So what did Chris Haddock, the creator and co-writer of Da Vinci’s Inquest and the subsequent Da Vinci’s City Hall (yes, a sequel), do for an encore? He made another show just like them, except about domestic surveillance and organized crime. He called it Intelligence.

Its basic premise is very familiar now, but not so much in 2005 when it debuted, and hardly at all in Canada back then. Mary Spalding (Klea Scott: Millennium, Robbery Homicide Division), the ambitious director of the Vancouver Organized Crime Unit (OCU), has struck a deal with Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey, Da Vinci’s Inquest, Bates Motel), the third-generation head of one of Vancouver’s top organized crime outfits: she gets his inside information and a career boost, he gets immunity and OCU’s inside information. The series follows the lead characters as they navigate not only their mutual obligations but also the nests of vipers they each live in.

[Careful where you step...]

Aug 25 2015 11:00am

CSI Queensland: The Strip

Imagine Jerry Bruckheimer was so taken by producing The Amazing Race Australia (yes, there was one) that he creates a cop show set in Oz. It’ll have all the Bruckheimerish trademarks: lush, glossy production design, lots of pretty people, less-than-Chekhovian character development, stories that don’t tax the viewers’ minds overmuch. Could it be his next Without a Trace – or the second coming of The Forgotten?

Too late, Jerry. Someone beat you to it. They called it The Strip.

The setup should sound familiar. Jack Cross (Aaron Jeffery, Neighbours), a Sydney detective, moves to Queensland’s Gold Coast to try to glue back together his busted marriage. He lands in Main Beach CID Homicide with a sardonic new partner, Detective Senior Constable Frances Tully (Vanessa Gray, Dance Academy). Together they chase dead bodies up and down the Miami Beach-like strip of surf, marinas, high-rise condos, and nightclubs south of Brisbane while working out their own plentiful personal issues and those of Detective Constables Jessica Mackay (Simone McAullay, Broadchurch) and Tony Moretti (Bob Morley, Home and Away). Gruff, blokish Inspector Max Nelson (Frankie Holden, Blue Heelers) yells at them all at least once an episode when the case gets tough.

That Miami Beach reference isn’t accidental. The series looks a lot like CSI: Miami: tons of saturated blues and greens, palm trees, bright sunshine on white stucco and white sand. Swooping flyovers, ocean sunsets (even though the ocean’s off the east coast) and nighttime skylines are liberally interspersed with the story action on the ground, lest you forget Our Heroes are working just up the road from a place called (I swear!) Surfer’s Paradise.

[All we need is The Who...]