Death of an Artistby Kate Wilhelm
In Kate Wilhelm's latest crime novel, a small Oregon town is rocked by a wheels-within-wheels case of art, fraud, and murder.
Silver Bay, Oregon, a small coastal resort town with nearly a thousand residents, is home to three generations of women: Marnie, the long-widowed owner of a small gift shop; Van, her granddaughter who is about to graduate medical
In Kate Wilhelm's latest crime novel, a small Oregon town is rocked by a wheels-within-wheels case of art, fraud, and murder.
Silver Bay, Oregon, a small coastal resort town with nearly a thousand residents, is home to three generations of women: Marnie, the long-widowed owner of a small gift shop; Van, her granddaughter who is about to graduate medical school; and Stef, mercurial, difficult, and a brilliant artist who refuses to sell her work. When Stef discovers that Dale Oliverthe latest husband/paramour in a very long lineis trying to sell her work behind her back, she puts a stop to it and threatens to do the same to him. Shortly thereafter, Stef dies in an accident in her studio, and Dale shows up with a signed contract granting him the right to sell her work. Convinced that Stef was murdered in order to steal her artwork, Marie and Vangrandmother and granddaughterdecide to do whatever is necessary to see that Dale doesn't get away with any of it. This includes enlisting the help of the new stranger in town, Tony, a former New York City cop, who might be the only one who can prove it was murder and bring the killer to justice.
“One of the masters of psychological fiction in America.” San Francisco Chronicle
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)
Read an Excerpt
Death of an ArtistA Mystery
By Kate Wilhelm
Minotaur BooksCopyright © 2012 Kate Wilhelm
All right reserved.
MARNIE MARKOV STILL had a flush of cold on her cheeks that March afternoon when Tony walked into her gift shop. Few outsiders showed up in the middle of the day before the weekend at this time of year. She sized this one up quickly. He was not a serious shopper. His cursory glance at the merchandise was not the searching look of anyone seeking a particular gift or memento. The shop held the usual assortment of shells from around the world, the lovely floats sometimes found on the local beaches, rarer now than they had been in the past, kites, souvenir sweatshirts, gift mugs decorated with whales or fir trees … Marnie knew that much of the merchandise could be found in any other shop up and down the Oregon coast, but a lot of it was unique to her shop. Handblown glass items from Bepe LaRoche; handcrafted pottery by local artisans; jewelry made by locals. None of these held the attention of the tall man approaching.
While Tony’s glance had appeared cursory, he had taken in and would remember the merchandise, where it was, even the posted prices. His swift look at Marnie was also exhaustive. A gray-haired, pink-cheeked woman, blue eyes, sixty to seventy years old, weight within a pound or two of 135, five feet three. She had a mole on her cheek.
He was a big man, not only tall, at least six-one or -two, but big in every dimension without appearing overweight. He walked with a limp, not bad, but noticeable.
As he moved toward her, Marnie suddenly had a vivid memory of seeing Ed approaching another counter, a long time ago. He had walked with a swaying motion unlike any she had seen before. Then, she had stood behind a Macy’s counter in New York City, not quite nineteen years old, one year out of high school in Indiana, and filled with an unaccountable dread and even fear of big, tall men.
The memory was so sharp, so immediate, Marnie caught the edge of the counter and gripped it hard, relieved when the stranger came to a halt, abruptly turned, and headed toward the alcove, which was what made her shop unique along the coast.
Now, for the first time, Tipper, her wirehaired terrier, raised his head to watch the man. He was used to customers and paid little attention to them, but his job was to help guard the alcove, and he was reliable. Marnie motioned to him, and he didn’t move from the floor at the end of the counter, but he was watching.
The alcove was set off with a velvet rope. Beyond the rope a pale-violet silk scarf edged with exquisite lace was draped over a low table. A small placard read CREATED BY JUSTINE LINCOLN. The table was satin-smooth cherrywood, with curved legs, and a gently scalloped edge. It had its own placard: FURNITURE HANDCRAFTED BY DAVE MCADAMS. A handblown-glass wall lamp, translucent pale green, hung above it, Bepe’s work. Behind it all on the wall was a painting signed by Stef. That was what seemed to hold the tall man’s attention. As well it should, Marnie thought, leaving her counter to cross the shop and stand near the man.
“These are all the work of local artists,” she said, motioning toward the arrangement.
“That’s a beautiful painting,” he said. “He’s a very fine artist.”
“She,” Marnie said with a smile. “She’s a woman.”
His surprise did not change his expression of interest as he turned his attention back to the painting. He wasn’t surprised that a woman had done it, but that she had chosen such an unlikely name for herself. “Stef,” he said, “captured a rare mood.”
It was one of her better pieces. An impressionistic view of Newport Bay, caught when the setting sun was revealed by soft, muted peach tones on small swells in the water, on the wings of gulls in flight, in sails. All the colors were muted by dusk. Pale yellow shone from suggestions of lights in windows onshore and in the lights of fishing boats. As he had said, the painting generated a mood. To Marnie’s mind it was a feeling of peace, the quietude found at the close of a day.
He turned toward her then. “Actually, I came in to get directions to Dave McAdams’s shop. I wasn’t expecting to find a miniature art gallery.”
“I showcase our local artists. Drop in again if you’re around. I change everything about once a month. There are business cards that tell where the items can be purchased.” She pointed to another table on the near side of the rope. He did not take one.
He didn’t look like a salesman, Marnie decided, or a thief, either. He was dressed in a lined Windbreaker, jeans, hiking shoes, and he was too tall not to be picked out of a crowd. His hair was curly, black, with a sprinkling of white that looked almost like a salon adornment; his eyes were dark, black or close to it. His gaze held hers steadily, not the gaze of an ax murderer. But she would call Dave, she also decided. She gave him directions.
“North to Fourth Street, turn right, and he’s on the right side in the middle of the second block. His shop looks like a shed, set back quite a bit from the street.”
The man nodded. “Thanks.” After another glance at the painting, he left.
She watched him walk out, returned to her counter, and put in a call to her old friend Dave McAdams. After alerting him that she had sent a visitor his way, she looked again at Stef’s painting. She had tried again and again to understand how Stef managed to get that particular feeling of peace in her work now and then. Stef had never had a peaceful moment in her life. Restless, constantly in motion, never satisfied with her work, with anyone around her, the world in general—peace was as alien to her as confession to an atheist.
Stef had been a colicky baby, a poor student, too restless and impatient to sit still in class, to pay attention to anything that didn’t feature her at its center. As an adult, nothing had changed. Stef was Marnie’s only child, nearing her fiftieth birthday, as unsettled now as she had been as a hormone-driven adolescent. Yet she managed to express through painting what eluded her in life.
* * *
DAVE MCADAMS WORKED alone, had worked alone for years after trying out two assistants decades earlier, and accustomed to solitude, he did not relish uninvited visitors. Wiry, seventy-one years old, he had sparse white hair, which was seldom seen, since his icon appeared to be an old baseball cap that had long since lost any distinguishable color or marking. What Dave liked best in life was working with beautiful wood, fruit woods, mahogany, teak, all the hardwoods, and he hummed tunelessly as he turned the planks and blocks into one beautiful and useful piece after another, each one meant to be appreciated for itself. Satiny finishes, oil patiently rubbed in over and over until he had the perfect surface that would hold up under daily use and grow lovelier with age. That day he was at his bench when the visitor knocked at his door and entered when Dave grudgingly said, “Come on in. Door’s not locked.”
Marnie had told him the guy was big, but still it was a bit of a surprise to see how big. Probably 220, 240, and not fat. He was carrying a bulky duffel bag.
Tony stood by the door, transfixed momentarily by a strong feeling of déjà vu. The shop was so like his father’s own shop had been, it was like walking through the door into the past, expecting to see his father look up, grin, and wave toward some unfinished piece of Tony’s, as if to say, Get to work, son. The moment passed.
Everything in the workroom was neat and clean, no piles of scraps anywhere, tools aligned on a bench or hung on a rack where they belonged. The lathe was clean. Oils, sanding papers, lacquers, varnishes, stains, all lined up, stacked up. A bench with a table saw, other saws hanging from a Peg-Board … His searching look came to rest on Dave, who was holding a spindle for a chair. He didn’t put it down or make any other gesture to indicate that he didn’t intend to go back to smoothing out a rough spot as soon as the visitor stated his business and left.
“I came to apply for a job,” Tony said.
“Don’t recall putting an ad in the paper, or hanging a help-wanted sign out.”
“I talked to Willoughby in his store in Portland. He said he could sell twice as much as you can produce, that there’s a constant call for more of your furniture.”
Dave snorted. “Not hiring. You’re wasting your time.”
“My name’s Anthony Mauricio,” Tony said, as if he had not heard a word. “Retired. I’ll just leave this and come by to collect it in a day or two.” He was opening his duffel bag. He pulled out an object wrapped in cloth, uncovered it to reveal a box.
From across the room it looked like cherry, or something with a cherry stain, with painting on the sides and top. Not like anything that Dave did or wanted to do. “Not my kind of thing,” he said, dismissing it.
“I’ll be driving around the coast a couple of days and come back on Friday,” Tony said, again as if oblivious to Dave’s rejection. He looked around the shop, then set the box on the bench with the table saw. “I’ll leave my card, too, and a couple of pictures. A reference you can call if you want.” He put them by the box, strode to the door, and walked out.
Dave cursed under his breath. “Damn fool!” he muttered, and turned his attention back to the spindle, but after a moment he put it down and crossed the room to examine the fancy box. It wasn’t stained, nor was it painted. It was cherry. The design was inlay, a pale rosewood inlay of a leaf motif that wrapped around the box and to the top, where it opened to a fleur-de-lis. Dave picked up the box to look at it more closely. Dovetailed joints, tiny brass hinges, an oiled patina finish, top and bottom. Inside, it was just as beautifully finished. He set it down carefully and regarded it again as an object in itself. Jewelry box? A lot of jewelry. It was twelve by fourteen, four inches deep. Love letters? What would it be used for? The fleur-de-lis pattern invited touching, as did the delicate stems winding up the sides. He knew the kind of work that went into inlay like that and the reason it was seldom seen. His fingers could not discern any seam.
After another minute or two of handling the box, as if testing it, he picked up the card. There was his name, ANTHONY MAURICIO, under it a single line, RET. NYC POLICE DEPARTMENT, and under that another single line, REF. CAPTAIN MARK ROSINI, followed by a phone number.
There were three snapshots of furniture: a small table with the same fleur-de-lis pattern, a chair, boudoir chair probably, and a coffee table inlaid with pale wood scrolling. Fancier than anything that Dave produced, but usable pieces, meant to be used, or possibly to be acquired as art. He sighed and, taking the card with him, went to his desk and dialed Williard Comley, the chief of police of Silver Bay.
Silver Bay had a population of 922 citizens, and Will was its police force in its entirety. In the summer with the influx of tourists Will had a deputy, although neither man was called into action to do much more than write parking tickets. But Dave knew that Will could get some background dope on Anthony Mauricio, whom, he had come to realize, he intended to hire, if he could afford him and if he hadn’t left New York City under a cloud.
* * *
USUALLY, WHEN THE days lengthened enough, Marnie walked to the shop and back home. Never in the darkest of the winter, she was too cautious for that, especially on Ridge Road, which was without any streetlamps. She and Molly Barnett split the day, Molly from nine until one, and Marnie from one until she closed at five or six, depending on customers. When business picked up, Molly came back at six and stayed until nine. On Thursday that week Marnie hung her CLOSED sign at five. A storm was blowing in with driving rain and a stiff wind, not too cold, but not good walking weather either. She had taken her car that day, and she had called Dave to tell him she’d be by to give him a lift. His house was next to hers up on the ridge, and he had no business walking in such weather, although left to his own devices he would have done so. At his shop, she motioned to Tipper to come along, and they hurried to the door and entered without knocking.
“If you’re not ready, I’ll wait,” she said, taking off a rain hat and shaking it inside the door.
“Just a couple of minutes,” Dave said, wiping a bench top with an oiled cloth that lifted fine sawdust and held it. “Have a look at what your big guy left here.” He waved toward his desk, where he had put the box, and continued on to the sink to rinse his cloth and wash his hands.
“Oh, my,” Marnie said, examining the box. “Did he make this? It’s beautiful.”
“Guess he did. Least he gave that impression.” Dave joined her at the desk. “The guy wants a job. Guess I’ll take him on.”
Marnie looked at Dave in surprise. “Just off the street like that? Who is he? Where’d he come from?”
“Name’s Anthony Mauricio, used to be a New York detective, homicide, retired with a disability. I had Will get the lowdown on him. His captain gave him a high recommendation.”
“Disability? What’s wrong with him?” She was thinking of the limp.
“Shot up. A couple of operations, and that’s all I know about that. He doesn’t seem to be a talker, so that’s all right.”
She nodded. Dave couldn’t abide empty chatter, and he had so little small talk it was almost as if he were retarded, or even mute at times. She would ask Will for more information. Will loved to talk so much it was hard to get him to shut up most of the time. And he wouldn’t have been satisfied with such bare bones.
* * *
THAT LATE AFTERNOON, and on into night until it got dark, Tony stood at the window of a motel several blocks from Dave’s shop and watched the storm. He had driven up the coast to Lincoln City and had spent a long time in Newport, where he had eaten in a restaurant overlooking the bay. Trying to see what it was that the artist Stef had seen out there had proved futile. The water was choppy, the sky gray, and blowing rain was pelting down slantwise. And now he was back in Silver Bay. He had to smile at the name of the town. There was no silver, and there was no bay, just a scooped-out bit of shore with sand on it. Even he, never having lived on a seacoast in his life, could see the marks made by high tides, the long, ragged-looking strands of seaweed halfway up the beach. He suspected that a storm like the one that had arrived that day would claim even more of the beach.
Then, lying on the bed, he thought about the zigzag trail he had cut across the country after leaving New York City. Up to see his sister in Albany, down to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit his mother, who had moved there from upstate New York following the death of Tony’s father. On to Las Vegas, on again, driving a few hours every day from place to place with no destination in mind, just driving with the thought that he would know it when he saw it. He had arrived in Portland, Oregon, with that vague thought still in his head and a bit of regret that he had not yet found it, a place where he wanted to stay and stop the insane driving.
In Portland, he had decided to head north, see what Seattle had to offer, and if it wasn’t there, head south. Maybe near San Francisco, along there somewhere. Then, walking in downtown Portland, window-shopping, he had thought derisively, he had stopped at the showroom window of Willoughby’s Furniture store, where he had seen Dave McAdams’s furniture on display, two chairs with SOLD notices on them.
And now here he was in Silver Bay, Oregon, and he intended to stay here, and he intended to work in Dave’s meticulous shop. Tony’s father had been a fine craftsman, a cabinetmaker, and he had taught Tony how to use the tools, how to make things that were beautiful and could be used.
That day in Portland, gazing at the two chairs in the window of the furniture store had brought the first moment of clarity that he had experienced in a long time, he reflected, lying on a motel bed on the Oregon coast in a place he had never heard of less than a week before. He had gone to school, gone to law school, joined the police force, had used up most of his life unaware that what he really wanted to do, what he was meant to do, was to work with wood, to make things, to work with his hands, and not only during a stolen hour or two now and then, with the guilt that had always followed.
A moment of clarity, he repeated to himself. An epiphany of sorts. He smiled, listening to the wind, the sound of crashing waves distant and constant, and he knew this was it. He had found the place.
Copyright © 2012 by Kate Wilhelm
Excerpted from Death of an Artist by Kate Wilhelm Copyright © 2012 by Kate Wilhelm. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
KATE WILHELM is the award-winning author of more than thirty novels and story collections, including the classic When Late the Sweet Birds Sang and the Barbara Holloway legal thrillers, most recently Heaven is High. She lives in Eugene, Oregon.
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As always from Kate Wilhelm, finely hewed characters, curious and plausible plot surprises, and a satisfying finish. Wilhelm is a master storyteller.
This was one of many exceptional books that Kate Wilhelm wrote. I truly loved reading this book.