Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Artist as Detective

Almost every mystery I pick up these days includes a nugget of information I haven't encountered before, or a window into something that is new to me. I enjoy these aspects of crime fiction, and often pick a book based on the jacket promising me an unusual perspective or discovery. I especially like mysteries featuring artists in any medium, and I always look for those who use their artistic skills to solve the crime. But these mysteries are hard to find.

In most mysteries featuring artists, the description of the detective or suspect as an artist is little more than window-dressing. The skill of the artist doesn't serve the mystery. In Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh, a group of painters at a summer workshop are suspects in a murder that happens right in front of them. But their skills as artists don't influence the investigation or solve the crime. In M.M. Kaye's Death in Kashmir the solution to the mystery depends on one character's artistic talent, which the sleuth has to recognize to solve the crime. 

Two more recent books inform the reader about art forgery but the skill of the artists involved are not essential to solving the crime. In The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro, an artist shunned by the art world is drawn into the underground world of art forgery, and describes in detail how a painting is created to pass tests of authenticity. Inspector Diamond also deals with forgery in The Vault by Peter Lovesey. But only standard modes of detection lead to the guilty party.

In the Anita Ray series, one of my goals is to use Anita's talent and life as a photographer to understand and solve crime. Sometimes this means little more than questioning someone who walks into her photography gallery in the resort where she lives and works. In Under the Eye of Kali, a character sees something in the gallery that upsets her, and Anita tracks this down to help solve the crime.

Anita is concerned about art theft in The Wrath of Shiva, and this leads her more deeply into other unexpected circumstances. Her commitment to a life as an artist is part of her zeal to uncover the theft of family art but her eye as a photographer doesn't help solve the crime.

In For the Love of Parvati, Anita visits relatives who live in the hills. During a break in the monsoon, she takes a walk with her camera and discovers a body washed down in a flood. She photographs the corpse to record suspicious marks on his body, and relies on these photographs when the police later tell her that the man died from drowning during the monsoon.

As the series progresses I plan to do more with Anita's way of looking at the world, her eye as a photographer-artist. Her talent and career as an artist give her a freedom not available to other women, and a curiosity that leads her into unusual situations.


  1. Hi, Susan,

    I think that's an excellent plan. Anita is an interesting character and her knowledge and interest in photography can add much to the series.

  2. Hi, Susan,

    I think that's an excellent plan. Anita is an interesting character and her knowledge and interest in photography can add much to the series.

  3. Thanks, Jacquie. I enjoy learning more about photography as I go along, and, of course, I get to do things I wouldn't otherwise be able to. Thanks for commenting.