The Art of the Decoy (A Scandal Mountain Antiques Mystery)
by Trish Esden
About The Art of the Decoy
The Art of the Decoy (A Scandal Mountain Antiques Mystery)
1st in Series
Setting – Vermont
Crooked Lane Books (April 5, 2022)
Hardcover : 336 pages
ISBN-10 : 1643859641
ISBN-13 : 978-1643859644
Digital ASIN : B098PXZNDF
Perfect for fans of Jane K. Cleland and Connie Berry, Tricia Esden’s series debut is sure to please.
After her mother is sent to prison for art forgery, Edie Brown returns to Northern Vermont to rebuild her family’s fine art and antiques business. She’s certain she can do it now that her mother is gone. After all, butting heads with her mom over bad business practices was what drove Edie away three years ago, including a screwup that landed Edie on probation for selling stolen property.
When Edie scores a job appraising a waterfowl decoy collection at a hoarder’s farmhouse, she’s determined to take advantage of the situation to rebuild the business’s tarnished reputation and dwindling coffers. In lieu of payment, Edie intends to cherry-pick an exceptional decoy carved by the client’s renowned Quebecoise folk artist ancestors. Only the tables turn when the collection vanishes.
Accused of the theft, Edie’s terrified that the fallout will destroy the business and land her in prison next to her mom. Desperate, she digs into the underbelly of the local antiques and art world. When Edie uncovers a possible link between the decoy theft and a deadly robbery at a Quebec museum, she longs to ask her ex-probation officer, and ex-lover, for help. But she suspects his recent interest in rekindling their romance may hide a darker motive.
With the help of her eccentric uncle Tuck and Kala, their enigmatic new employee, Edie must risk all she holds dear to expose the thieves and recover the decoys before the FBI’s Art Crime Team or the ruthless thieves themselves catch up with her.
In the world of art and antiques, it’s all about the story.
For example, when an antique or piece of art is stolen from a museum or home, and then vanishes underground, the rumors and stories deepen into legends and mysteries. The crazier the story is, the higher the piece’s value climbs.
Think about it, I’m not lying. The Mona Lisa only became famous after she was the victim of a high-profile theft. What would happen if she were stolen again and went underground for say, twenty years? What would she be worth then? Billions, maybe?
Do you think the thirteen pieces stolen in the infamous Isabella Gardner Museum heist are worth more today than they were the day they were taken? Of course.
Same goes for last month’s robbery at the Canadian Museum of History. A police officer dead. A security guard left in critical condition. No clues to the identity of the robbers who made off with over five million dollars’ worth of Canadian and Aboriginal art: sculptures by Inuit carver Johnny Inukpuk, a hooked rug created by fabric artist Ozama Martin, a series of paintings, Dogs and Decoys, by the renowned folk artist Jean-Paul Bouchard…. The $250,000 reward for information is nothing compared to what the theft has done to the value of the stolen pieces. Previously, worth just over five million. Now? Easily twice that.
Stories add value.
Value means dollars.
And to us dealers in the art and antiques trade, it really all comes down to the cash. Well, that, plus the love of history. And the hunt. And the desire for beautiful things.
Not that I’d ever steal or trade in stolen goods. Not intentionally, at least.
The brrring of the phone bounced off the van’s metal walls.
Jolting from an adrenaline-fueled dream involving dumpster diving and a Fabergé egg, I fumbled under the pillow for the offending device. “Hello?”
“It’s Tuck. You awake?”
Aaarggh. Of course, I was awake. Now. If it had been anyone other than my uncle, I’d have bitten their head off for calling at two in the morning.
“Hang on a minute.” Wriggling out of the sleeping bag, I squeezed toward the van’s sliding door, past suitcases and an early nineteeth-century blanket box from a rummage sale. Though nowhere near as life-altering as discovering a Fabergé egg in a dumpster, the blanket box was a quality piece and an easy sell. I had a knack for finding such things, even when they were hidden amid piles of fakes and other junk. Perhaps it came from growing up in the antiques and art trades, now a fine-tuned instinct after years of tagging along with my grandparents. Maybe it was heightened by my education and internships. Whatever, the neurons at the back of my brain jumped to life every time I crossed paths with a genuine, quality piece.
As I slid the van door open, the overhead light flashed on. The smell of smoldering campfires hung in the damp air. Frogs chimed in the distance.
“You still there?” Tuck asked.
“Yeah. What’s going on?” I settled down in the van’s open doorway. As a rule, Tuck didn’t keep normal hours. Still, this was late, even for him.
“I meant to call earlier. Kala and I were away at an auction.”
“She’s not why I called.” His voice tensed. “It’s about your mom.”
I closed my eyes and prayed that the months of waiting and not knowing had come to an end.
“She took the plea agreement. Nine months. Federal prison. Art forgery.”
The air bottled up in my lungs released. Finally. “So she decided not to risk going to trial.”
“Didn’t have much choice. It could have been a lot worse.”
“You’re right about that.” Even the thought of jail terrified me. “I still don’t understand how Mom got herself into this situation. She knows what’s legal and what isn’t.”
Tuck was silent for a moment. “Edie, I need you to come home.”
“I’d love to see you, but I’m camped out in the Berkshires, doing a flea market this weekend.”
“Your internship at the auction house is over, right?”
“Yeah. Last week.” A sick feeling knotted in my chest. He was up to something.
“I didn’t mind helping your mom, but that doesn’t mean I can do everything on my own. Plus, I have the gardens and my African violets…”
As he rambled on about retirement and his latest horticultural ventures, thoughts of the longtime family business seeped into my mind: Scandal Mountain Fine Arts and Antiques. For decades, collectors and dealers had flown in and driven up to northern Vermont to buy from us. Famous artists had held court in the shop and camped out in the spare bedrooms. I vividly remembered racing home from grade school to watch my grandparents unbox their latest finds: primitive paintings, folk art carvings, etched powder horns… so many stunning pieces created by master artisans, history and beauty melding together. I thought of the warmth and strength of Grandma’s hands, and the scent of Grandpa’s corduroy jacket, beeswax, lemon oil, and damp humus.
But along with success came rivals and trouble, and the plane crash that killed my grandparents. After that, Mom took over the business. She was hopelessly inept. It had been nearly three years since I’d lived at home and attempted to work for her. One of her lapses had culminated in my arrest for selling stolen property. Thank you very much, Mom.
Tuck cleared his throat, pulling me from my thoughts. “There’s this appraisal event coming up. An Antiques Roadshow sort of deal. The shop’s under contract to be there, but it’s going to be hard to pull off without your mom’s expertise. I really could use your help.”
“I can’t believe they’d want any of us there. Mom’s arrest has been in the news for months.”
“It’s here in Scandal Mountain. Will you do it? Please.”
I rubbed a hand over my face. I was good at saying no, but this was Tuck and he rarely asked for anything. “All right. When is it?”
“Tomorrow. Actually, today—it is after midnight.”
“You’ve got to be kidding! I’m five hours away.”
“That’s why I called now. It’s on the village green. Ten o’clock sharp.” He hung up.
I stared at the phone, then laughed. Tuck, the slick bastard. He’d purposely called at the last minute so I wouldn’t have time to wiggle out of the deal, and I’d fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
And that definitely wasn’t normal for me.
About Trish Esden
Trish Esden loves museums, gardens, wilderness, dogs, and birds, in various orders depending on the day. She lives in northern Vermont where she deals antiques with her husband, a profession she’s been involved with since her teens. Don’t ask what her favorite type of antique is. She loves hunting down old bottles and rusty barn junk as much as she enjoys fine art and furnishings.
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