Stones of Treason: An Art-World Mystery

Stones of Treason: An Art-World Mystery

by Peter Watson

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An art historian gets caught up in a deadly international standoff in this “inventive” political thriller (The Guardian).

What would happen if Greek extremists blackmailed Britain into returning ancient sculptures? And what if that blackmail involved not only Queen Elizabeth II, but also dark secrets about her uncle, the Duke of Windsor?
When Edward Andover, Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, receives a painting by Raphael from an anonymous collective known only as the “Apollo Brigade,” he’s nonplussed. But the ominous delivery is soon followed by two more. All three paintings, it turns out, were looted by the Nazis during World War II. Soon, Andover finds himself racing to prevent the public exposure of secrets from the royal family’s past, should they not meet the group’s demand to return of the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, on display at the British Museum. What’s more, his very life may be at stake as the Apollo Brigade makes its violent intentions known.
Set over the course of five explosive weeks, Stones of Treason features “intelligent action in a realistic thriller” in the tradition of Dan Brown’s blockbuster Robert Langdon novels (TheMail on Sunday).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504046879
Publisher: Road
Publication date: 11/28/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 392
Sales rank: 691,590
File size: 681 KB

About the Author

Peter Watson was educated at Durham University and the Universities of London and Rome, and was awarded scholarships in Italy and the United States. After serving as deputy editor of New Society magazine, he spent four years on the Sunday Times “Insight” team of investigative journalists. Watson wrote the daily diary column for the London Times before becoming that paper’s New York correspondent, eventually returning to London to write about the art world for the Observer and then the Sunday Times.
He has published three exposés on the world of art and antiquities, twelve books of nonfiction, and seven novels—some under the pen name Mackenzie Ford—and from 1997 to 2007 was a research associate at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge. Watson lives in London, where his interests include theatre, opera, and fishing.

Read an Excerpt


WEEK ONE The Missing Masterpiece

1 Wednesday

Edward Andover knew that it was mildly eccentric in someone with his station in life but the fact was he preferred a bicycle for getting around London. Strictly speaking, it was probably beneath him to be seen pedalling along the Mall, books and files wedged untidily into the basket on the handlebars, his left thumb constantly tweaking the bell at tourists who straggled into the road. The black and yellow headphones of his Walkman didn't help either. They were clamped to his head like the strings of a bonnet, as he soaked up that morning's helping of Basie or Bruckner. The Surveyer of the Queen's Pictures, as Edward had now been for five glorious months, spent most of his waking hours in the elevated company of Hans Holbein, Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Peter Paul Rubens. A bicycle simply didn't fit.

None the less, on that Wednesday when it all began, Edward arrived at St James's Palace on his bike and there was good reason. It wasn't far from his grace-and-favour flat in Kensington Palace, it was a brisk July morning with the sunlight as bright as butter and, if you had the passion for pasta that Edward did, it was about the right amount of exercise. It wasn't arduous enough to bring on a heart attack – and might just keep one at bay.

He turned off the Mall into Marlborough Road. Half-way along he free-wheeled to a stop in the small courtyard of St James's Palace and dismounted. Edward wheeled his bicycle towards a shiny black door set into the wall of the palace and half hidden within a cloister. He spent his life in grand buildings. He could not fail to, for the Royal Collection was divided among magnificent households: Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Hampton Court, Balmoral Castle, Sandringham and Kensington Palace. St James's Palace, however, was his favourite, and not just because his office was here. He relished the fact that St James's was in among the traffic of London, rather than set back behind some huge royal retaining wall. He liked the fact that he could pop out to Christie's, or his club, or across the road to Hardy's to have his fishing rod repaired, or to buy some flies. The London Library was five minutes up the road and so was Paxton & Whitfield, where he could pick up some fresh Parmesan. At Balmoral the driveway alone was two miles long, and the village a mile beyond that, so it took all morning to cash a cheque.

Edward knocked on the black door. He sensed movement behind a spy-hole set into the woodwork, then heard a rattle as a bolt was slid back. The door opened and a uniformed security guard smiled at him. Edward needed no pass; his face was his pass.

Edward Andover was a tall, rather lanky man of thirty-five with a nose that had a prominent bridge to it. He had broken it playing the saxophone in his school jazz band: the drummer, a small Welsh boy with more enthusiasm than skill, had lost control of his sticks during a performance of a Jelly Roll Morton number and one had hit Edward slap in the face. He took comfort in the fact that he had once found a nose just like his own in one of Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbooks. Edward's eyes, brown as country eggs, were set off by tufts of pale blond hair, which sprouted energetically from the crown of his head but failed to cover his brow.

He signed in and parked his bicycle in a small inner courtyard where the fire-buckets were stored in a red row. He slipped off his headphones and took the books and files from the basket on the handlebars. A door across the courtyard opened into a corridor with windows along one side: his office lay that way. Through the windows he could see a small square lawn. Beyond that was a wall, with roses, and beyond the wall there was another lawn. He knew all about that second lawn though he had never been there: it was the Queen Mother's garden. Clarence House, the Queen Mother's official home, rose beyond the wall and the gardens; it was built of a faded yellow stone which Edward hated. Left to him, he would have blown up Clarence House and started again.

Reaching the end of the corridor, he turned into a large hall with a wide pale-oak staircase. A view of an English castle, one of the Royal Collection's many Canalettos, hung above a dead fireplace. Here another uniformed security guard sat at a desk. Edward moved across and signed for his mail. Ever since the letter-bomb scares of the 1970s the mail for the entire royal household was screened. Today there were about fifteen envelopes – average. He picked them up and mounted the staircase. His office was on the first floor.

'Dr Andover ... this is for you as well.'

Edward looked back down at the guard. The man's fingertips were resting on a parcel, which leaned against the legs of the desk.

Frowning, Edward stepped back, bent, and felt the parcel with the fingers of one hand. The packet must have been a couple of inches thick, and nearly square, each side almost a yard long. The wrapping was brown waterproof paper held in place by a strong white string. His name and the palace address had been written in bold black capitals with a felt-tip pen. He lifted the parcel. It was light – very light. Instinctively, he felt there was a picture inside. The size was right, the weight was right, if there was no frame. But who would send a picture through the post? It could damage so easily. And why? The Royal Collection was still added to, though Her Majesty, bless her, was no Charles I when it came to connoisseurship. But sending paintings, valuable or otherwise, through the post was unheard of.

He looked at the security guard and shrugged. Carrying his books, his Walkman and the rest of his mail in one hand, Edward grasped the package in the other. He turned and mounted the stairs a second time.

His office was entered through that of his secretary, Wilma Winnington-Brown. Wilma was a handsome woman, almost as tall as Edward and with a near-identical nose. A widow of long standing, whose late husband had been a colonel in the Blues and Royals, she had his pension to supplement her modest stipend from the royal household and always looked as spick and span as a palace guard. Bossy in the extreme, she was referred to throughout St James's Palace as 'The General'.

She was on the phone as he entered but flashed him a smile as bright as a broadside. Her perfume clogged the room. Edward smiled back and went through to his own office. It looked out on to Cleveland Row. This was a small square which, in The General's terminology, governed the approaches to Clarence House and Lancaster House. For almost all the time Cleveland Row was deserted. No cars were allowed to park there any more and, unless you were one of the very few privileged to lunch with the Queen Mother, the road led nowhere.

Edward adored his office. Its chief feature, as you could not help noticing, was its sloping floor. At some stage in the past – two hundred years ago perhaps, or three hundred, but in any case before the age of foundations – the palace building had settled. The broad oak floorboards, now almost white with age and scrubbing, had sagged and bulged and warped but they hadn't given way. The room had character.

The wall opposite the windows was lined with books and auction catalogues but on the wall away from The General's office, opposite Edward's desk, hung one of the perks of his job. At the moment it was a white chalk drawing by Veronese, a few delicate lines on blue paper. Edward had the pick of the Royal Collection if he wanted it. Whenever he was researching a picture he could, with Her Majesty's permission, which she almost invariably gave, remove that picture for study. He would hang it opposite his desk for weeks on end.

He placed his mail on his desk and set down the Walkman. He laid the parcel on a table which he used for conferences and then began to replace on the shelves the books he had taken home the night before. As he was doing this, Wilma came in. She put a cup of coffee on the desk next to the unopened mail.

'Two messages – and may I say you look a bit peaky this morning, Edward. You weren't up too late last night reading, I hope? You must look after yourself.' Few generals – few secretaries, come to that – were as maternal as Wilma Winnington-Brown. One of her children was an unmarried daughter of twenty-eight and she lived in hope.

'What are the messages? And, if you must know, I had dinner at the National Maritime Museum last night. The food there is enough to make anyone seasick. And it was all over by ten-fifteen.' He saw The General smile contentedly before adding: 'Then I went down to the Albatross Club and listened to the Louisiana Big Band till half past two. I'm not "peaky", General, I'm shattered. Now – messages, woman, messages.'

She grimaced, then smiled. She liked to think she was more of an adjutant than a secretary. 'I've put your sweetener in your coffee – just one, so don't add any more behind my back. Now ... message number one is from Chetwode at Sandringham. They had a bad cloudburst last evening and a skylight wasn't properly fastened. The rain got in and fell across one of the Watteaus. Chetwode would like instructions.'

Edward picked up his coffee and sipped it.

'Message number two: Geneviève Chombert called from the Louvre. They would like to move your lecture next week from Tuesday to Wednesday – do you mind? Seems one of the other speakers can't make Wednesday and she wants you to swap. I said you'd let them know before lunch – don't forget it's an hour later over there. Oh – and yes: don't forget also, message three, that I'd like to leave a little early tonight – the son's birthday.'

It always amused Edward how The General referred to her offspring as 'the son' and 'the daughter', as though they were nothing to do with her. He replaced the coffee-cup on his desk and smiled. 'I'll do a deal with you. You may leave at four provided you get some new batteries for me on the way back from lunch. Scarlatti was definitely slowing down as I came along the Mall.'

'It's beneath me but I'll do it,' she said, turning back to her own office. 'I'm a secretary, you know, not your mother-inlaw.'

Grinning, Edward walked across to the table and stood over the parcel he had placed there. The morning shadows cast by the window-frames reached across the waterproof paper, dividing the packet into squares, like the strips on a canvas by Mondrian. Edward didn't recognize the handwriting on the paper but then he had no idea who would send him such an object. Even now the curiosity he felt about the contents of the packet was outweighed by a sense of intrusion: his was a fairly peaceable, almost routine, existence, well away from the limelights of the world. He liked it that way. Telemann's oboe sonatas contained more than enough excitement for him. Also, just now he was overburdened with work. Sir James Hillier, Director of the Royal Collection and Edward's boss, was in hospital, recovering from a back operation. For the time being that left Edward with more than his usual quota of duties.

With a sigh he took up a pair of scissors, reached for the package and cut through the string. As he had thought, when he reached the object inside the wrapping it proved to be a picture. However, as he turned the thing over and round, so that he could look at it the proper way up, his pulse throbbed in his temples. This was a very good picture indeed. It was a drawing, in black pencil and chalk on faded yellow paper, and mounted on card. It showed a woman and two children, two chubby babies, the whole formed into a pyramid-type structure. On the left was a sleeping infant while at the right another was pointing at the first.

Edward examined the drawing from all angles. It appeared as though, at some stage in the past, it had been folded: fold lines were visible and divided the composition roughly into six rectangles. The clothing was well drawn and so were the fingers. Obviously it represented the Virgin and the infant Jesus and the other child was probably the infant St John. That much was clear, but beyond that the picture looked Italian, either late fifteenth or early sixteenth century.

But why had it been sent to him?

He had been so intent on the picture, so carried away by its beauty, that he had forgotten to look for any covering note. He bent down and searched amid the wrappings on the floor. Sure enough, there was an envelope: his name was typed on the outside. He straightened up, placed the picture back on the table and tore open the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of paper, plain, with no heading. Two lines were typed on the sheet, laid out like verse. The message, however, was prosaic. It read:


Mystified, Edward turned the paper over but there were no other marks and certainly no signature or name of any kind. He examined the envelope again: nothing, just his name, typed. He reached down a second time for the wrapping-paper and found the postmark. It was smudged but might have read 'London N1' or 'N7'. It was dated a couple of days before and hadn't even been registered. Part of him was exasperated at what appeared to be some sort of game. He reread the lines. 'There are more where this came from.' Did that mean the picture was a forgery? That drawings like the one on the table could be turned out in any number? But he was sure the picture was not a forgery, not a modern one anyway. Then he realized why he wasn't more exasperated. Whatever game was being played, it was fairly serious. The picture was too good.

Yet that didn't help. Why him?

On top of one of the filing cabinets next to his desk was a small wooden easel. He reached for it now and set it down on the table. He arranged the drawing on it so that it could be viewed from his desk. The second line of the message said he would be hearing again, so presumably the mystery would be cleared up in due course. He had things to do and had better get on.

He spent the rest of the morning at his desk. He arranged for a local restorer at Norwich Museum to go across to Sandringham and report back to him on the damage to the Watteau. He called Geneviève Chombert in Paris and confirmed that he could deliver his lecture – on baroque pictures in the Royal Collection – as easily on Wednesday next week as on Tuesday. All the time he was on the phone, he scarcely took his eyes off the drawing on the easel.

He set to work polishing his lecture for Paris. He had a good library here in his office and got up from time to time to consult a book. On one of these occasions, as he passed the drawing, he picked it up again and inspected it closely. Then he took down another book from the shelves, flipped through the pages and stopped at a particular illustration. He examined it closely, comparing it with the drawing on the table. Then he read what was written in the book below the illustration. As he did so, he moved back to his desk and shouted to Wilma: 'Get me Michael Arran, please!'

Arran was on the line in seconds. The Director of the National Gallery was a busy man but Edward Andover was both a friend and a powerful figure in the museum world. At least twenty of the main attractions in the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square were loans from the Royal Collection.

'Are you busy for lunch, Michael?'

'I'm afraid I am, Edward. But I should be back by three, and I'm in the gallery all afternoon after that. Is it something urgent?'

'I don't know.' Edward explained about the package.

'Odd, I agree,' said Arran. 'But I'm not sure why you need my help.'

'Not you personally, Michael. I need the expertise of your staff. This is an odd business, as you say, but I'm beginning to believe that "odd" is not a big enough word to describe it.'

'What do you mean?'

'This isn't just any picture, Michael. I've done a bit of checking and I've compared it with similar drawings in the books I have here. But I can't be certain – that's why I need your help. However, I've a very good idea that this drawing sitting on my desk, this piece of faded paper, sent unregistered and unprotected through the mail, is an original – by Raphael. It must be worth millions.'

The diode display on Edward's telephone answering machine stared up at him out of the gloom. The figure '3', square and squat, cast a green glow over the top of his desk. He had worked late, trying to complete his lecture – but had failed. It needed another half-day's work, he reckoned. Even so, he hadn't reached his flat in Kensington Palace until after eight, by which time the light was going.

He loosened his tie and went to the bar, or the lacquered tray with bottles on it that he called a bar. He mixed himself a whisky and soda, and raised the glass to his lips. He surveyed the flat. The wallpaper, the curtains and quite a bit of the furniture came with the job but the pictures were his own. There was a lovely watercolour of Ely Cathedral by William Callow – brown, yellow and peach. A view of the Nile by Edward Lear – vivid blue and gold inks. Over the door to the bedroom was placed a small oil by Edward Molyneux, showing two roses in a glass. The water was depicted meticulously and the petals were a gorgeous tangerine. On his desk was a photograph of him driving a 1934 Bugatti at Silverstone. Old racers were Edward's one extravagance.


Excerpted from "Stones of Treason"
by .
Copyright © 1991 Peter Watson.
Excerpted by permission of Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

WEEK ONE The Missing Masterpiece,
WEEK TWO The Apollo Brigade,
WEEK THREE The Windsor Rubens,
WEEK FOUR The Stones of Treason,
WEEK FIVE The Vote in the Commons,

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