Have I got a wee treat for you!?! Today here on Bloodhound Wednesday I’ve got a sneaky peak of Tana Collins’ brand sparkly new book Mark of the Devil, the third Inspector Jim Carruthers book.
Big thanks to Sarah Hardy of Bloodhound Books for inviting me to join the #blogblitz for Mark of the Devil. Before we get to your sneaky peak, here’s what Mark Of The Devil is all about!
While Inspector Jim Carruthers and team are busy investigating a series of art thefts they receive an anonymous tip about the body of a young woman on a deserted beach.
The bizarre clues to her identity, and what might have happened to her, include a strange tattoo, a set of binoculars and slab of meat left on the cliffs.
The team’s investigations lead them to a local shooting estate and its wealthy owner Barry Cuthbert. However, Carruthers suspects Cuthbert is not all he seems and the DI soon starts to wonder if the cases of the missing works of art, the dead woman and the estate are connected.
Then when the body of a young gamekeeper is pulled from the sea tensions boil over. The trail of clues lead the team to the unlikely locale of Tallinn and into the sinister world of international crime and police corruption.
Needing answers Carruthers must look further afield than Fife. However, the closer he gets to discovering the truth the more danger he finds himself in.
Since everyone who crosses the vengeful killers seem to end up dead, can Carruthers solve the case with his life in tact?
Joe peered over the edge of the cliff. Her body lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of the rocks; pink skirt bunched up around milk-white thighs, one sandal still on her foot, the other gone. The man squinted in the warm sun, tasting rancid sweat on his top lip. He wiped it away with the back of his hand then he dug deep into the large pocket of his wax jacket until he found the bulky object he was searching for.
Overhead, gulls of huge wingspan screamed as they dive-bombed the rocks, their movement accentuating the stillness of the girl’s body. Only her skirt rippled in the wind. Despite the heat of the day the man was being buffeted by the strong north-easterly wind. It whistled around his head, making his eyes water and nose run. He steadied himself as he looked through the binoculars, taking in the sweep of the beach for any other sign of human life, but the silver sands were empty, cut off by the rocky outcrops and dangerously crumbling cliffs. He trained the binoculars once more on the body, adjusting the lens for a clearer view.
The woman was lying on her front, head turned to the side. He could now see the deep gashes in her legs and arms, the sand discoloured where the blood from a head wound had bled out. His eyes widened in horror and revulsion. There was a gull pecking at her face and in that instant he knew she was beyond help. He opened his mouth, sucking in salty damp air. His shout was swallowed by the cries of the birds.
The man stumbled back from the cliff face and turned to where he had last seen his colleague. Derek – Deek – was spreading the fresh meat above some rocks. He straightened up, putting a penknife back into his pocket.
‘Havenae seen a sign of them. No’ like those fucking seagulls. Christ, they’re aggressive. One of them nearly took ma heid off. What’s up with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.’
Joe’s breaths came out in sobs. He wiped his wet nose with the back of his hand. ‘Worse than that. A dead body. On the beach. We need to ring the police.’
‘What you on about?’ said Deek. ‘Are you mental? And get caught? We could get a prison sentence for this. And what would the boss say? By the time he’d finished with you, you’d end up wishing you had gone to fucking prison.’
‘Look.’ Deek grabbed Joe’s arm and shook him. ‘Just show me where the body is. Then we’ll tell the boss. He’ll ken what to do. But I tell you one thing for nothing. He willnae want the cops sniffing round, so keep your mouth shut.’
* * *
DI Jim Carruthers sipped his lukewarm coffee and sighed in frustration. Placing his glasses further up onto his greying head he searched his desk for the latest report on the recent spate of art thefts. Pushing away other paperwork, he managed to knock over two nearly empty polystyrene cups. A trickle of liquid spilled onto the report he had been searching for and in attempting to blot it with his right hand he only succeeded in smearing it right across the page. He swore. The heat and the broken air conditioning were making him cranky.
‘Don’t forget the brief in five minutes,’ DS Andrea Fletcher, with her elfin face and short dark hair, said as she entered his office. He looked up, thinking her new bob suited her.
He smiled at her. ‘I hadn’t forgotten.’ He stood, gathering his notes as she left.
The briefing started when they’d taken their seats. Dougie Harris, as ever, was the last to arrive. Carruthers cleared his throat as soon as the middle-aged detective sergeant squashed his bulky frame into a chair, slapping a copy of the Racing Post onto the table in front of him.
‘What do we know of the latest break-in?’ Carruthers made eye contact with DS Gayle Watson as he said this.
Her large brown eyes were serious in her heart-shaped face. ‘Similar MO to the last two,’ she said.
‘They don’t seem to have touched anything except the works of art.’ She consulted her notebook. ‘Got away with a Jack Vettriano.’
‘I seem to know that name,’ said Carruthers.
‘Local boy,’ said Watson. ‘Comes from Methil. You’ll know him from The Singing Butler.’
Carruthers frowned. He couldn’t recall.
‘Elegant couple in evening attire dancing on the beach under umbrellas?’ prompted Watson.
Carruthers nodded. He could now visualise the painting. ‘Do we know what the stolen painting was worth?’
Watson flicked the page of her notebook over. ‘Last valued three years ago at £200,000.’
Harris whistled. ‘These people mean business. You could buy a fucking racehorse for that.’ He idly glanced at the horse-racing paper in front of him.
Fletcher snorted. ‘A Vettriano’s worth a lot more than a racehorse.’
‘Any leads?’ asked Carruthers, ignoring Harris and Fletcher’s petty squabbling, which he was used to.
‘None, at least not yet,’ said Watson. ‘No unexplained fingerprints. Thief must have been wearing gloves.’
Carruthers looked over at her. ‘Did anyone see or hear anything?’
Watson turned the sheet of her notebook over. ‘Burglar alarm went off. Burglars made a lot of noise by shouting. They woke up the owners who were in the upstairs bedroom. Where they stayed, too scared to come down–’
‘Which was the purpose of all the shouting,’ said Carruthers. ‘To keep them upstairs. Who are the owners?’
Watson riffled back over her notes. ‘Couple called McMullan. In their sixties. Live out near Cupar.’
‘Did the neighbours see or hear anything?’ asked Carruthers.
Watson shook her head. ‘Nearest are half a mile away.’
Carruthers stroked the bristles on his chin. He needed a shave. He could also smell the sweat on him over the heat of the room. He strode over to the incident board. ‘So burglars target yet another isolated location. The fact their victims are at home doesn’t deter them. Nor, it seems, does the fact they set off the burglar alarm.’
‘Apparently they were in and out within a few minutes,’ said Watson. ‘And did the robbery in the dark.’
‘Which suggests an intimate knowledge of where everything was in that house,’ said Fletcher. ‘The likelihood being that they’d been in the house before.’
‘Or seen photographs,’ said Watson.
‘What are your thoughts?’ asked Fletcher.
‘Same feelings I had after the first two robberies,’ said Carruthers. ‘These are no amateurs. They have all the hallmarks of a professional gang of art thieves.’
‘Three robberies within a few weeks. They’re targeting the area,’ said Fletcher. ‘To pull this off and leave no leads must have taken a huge amount of research. And manpower. Not to mention luck.’
‘You’re looking at a highly organised bunch of crooks,’ said Carruthers. ‘And unfortunately, they’ve landed on our patch.’
Fletcher scrutinised the incident board that had three red pins in the map of Fife. ‘There’s got to be a common element that links all these robberies,’ she said. ‘They’re so well planned. The question we need to focus on is whether the person or persons behind the robberies are known to their victims in any way.’
The door opened and Detective Constable Willie Brown put his balding head round. ‘Jim, we’ve just had a call. Burning vehicle in a field five miles from Cupar.’
Carruthers stood and grabbed his notebook. ‘Doubt it’s joyriders.’ He was thinking back to the abandoned burning cars that had been found after the first two robberies. Turning to Brown’s retreating back he said, ‘Any reports of stolen cars come in yet?’
Brown swivelled round. ‘No. Things have been as quiet as the grave.’
‘Owners are probably away,’ said Fletcher, leaping up. ‘Let’s get forensics down there.’
Carruthers nodded. ‘I’ve got Superintendent Bingham breathing down my neck. This latest victim is a friend of his. We need results. At some point their luck has to run out. Let’s pray it’s sooner rather than later.’
Harris sniffed. ‘A little redistribution of wealth doesnae bother me,’ he said, standing up, burying his Racing Post under his right arm. ‘That lot’s got too much money.’
‘Whatever your personal view of our class system, a crime’s a crime,’ said Carruthers. ‘And with the value of what’s being stolen, this one’s big. We’re lucky nobody’s been hurt or worse.’ Carruthers grabbed his coat. ‘C’mon, Andie, we’ll head to the scene and then pay the McMullans another visit.’
* * *
The fire brigade had put the blaze out, and left the burned wreckage dripping wet. The SOCOs were already busy on the scene. As he parked his car, Jim noticed one SOCO slip in the wet and glower at the firefighters as they were packing up their gear.
Carruthers and Fletcher stepped out of the car. The air was still acrid in the aftermath: burnt oil and upholstery fumes that would take time to dissipate. It caught Carruthers by the throat, making him cough. It was a warm summer’s day in August and the heat trickled over Carruthers’ shoulder blades and down his back. Within minutes his white shirt was stuck uncomfortably to his skin. The thought of going back to an office with broken air con was not a pleasant one. He surveyed the burnt-out wreckage, taking in the vast expanse of scorched earth where the barley had also caught fire.
He strode towards one of the SOCOs. The man looked up from his painstaking search of the ground. ‘It’s a tinderbox over there. Surprised the whole field didn’t go up.’
Carruthers rubbed his hand across his damp brow. ‘We’ve had an unusual spell of weather.’
‘That’s global warming for you,’ said the SOCO.
Carruthers frowned. He didn’t think global warming worked like that, but kept his mouth shut. He said instead, ‘Farmer won’t be happy. Anything turn up yet, Ian?’
The SOCO grinned. ‘Not yet. Be patient.’
Carruthers grimaced. ‘A commodity in short supply, I’m afraid.’ He noticed that the SOCO had beads of sweat on his forehead, too.
‘We’ll give you a call when we find something,’ said the SOCO.
‘Must be hell, dressed like that, in this heat,’ said Carruthers, grateful he wasn’t wearing the latex gloves and what looked like boiler suits. He kept as far back as he could.
‘You get used to it.’
‘In Scotland? Give me a break.’
The SOCO grinned.
Carruthers addressed his next comment to Fletcher. ‘These robbers are making us look like fools.’
She pulled her notebook out.
‘A four-by-four,’ said Carruthers. ‘Just like the others.’ He spotted a ruddy-faced man in mustard-yellow cords briskly walking towards them, a sheepdog at his feet. ‘C’mon,’ he said, ‘let’s leave the SOCOs to their jobs and go interview the farmer.’
Walking towards the man, Carruthers flipped open his ID before the farmer had a chance to speak. The dog barked excitedly at Carruthers’ heels.
‘Rambo, quiet,’ the man shouted. The dog obediently sat by his owner’s feet.
‘DI Jim Carruthers and this is DS Andrea Fletcher,’ said Carruthers. ‘Do you own this land?’
‘Aye. What the hell’s been going on? Looks like I’ve lost half my field. I’ve been away to Dundee to pick up some supplies. Some of the fencing’s down.’ He nodded over to the blackened vehicle. ‘Is it joyriders again?’
‘Have you had problems with joyriders before?’ asked Fletcher.
‘Not me. Friends of mine. Couple of years back.’
‘Where was this?’ asked Fletcher.
‘Gargunnock, just outside Stirling.’ He shook his head, looking through narrowed eyes at the blackened charred remains of part of his barley field. ‘I’ll have to get hold of my insurers.’
‘We don’t think it was joyriders, Mr…?’
‘Adamson. Charlie Adamson.’
Adamson frowned at Carruthers for a second then looked to the burnt-out vehicle, his face pale. ‘You don’t mean someone was…’
‘No, no, nothing like that,’ Carruthers assured quickly. He noticed the dog was starting to wander off. ‘We need to ask you a few questions, though. We believe this vehicle may have been used in a recent robbery. It’s likely been stolen for the job. Have you seen anything suspicious, recently? Anybody hanging around? Strangers you haven’t recognised?’
Adamson shook his head. ‘No, nobody. You’re talking about those art thefts, aren’t you? I’ve read about them in the paper.’
‘The gang haven’t been caught yet. We believe they are still in the area,’ said Fletcher.
‘Look, if you’ve finished with me, I really need to contact my insurers,’ said Adamson. He whistled and Rambo ran back, breathless, tongue lolling from side to side.
Carruthers gave Adamson his card. ‘If you think of anything you want to add…’ he said.
The man was already striding off.
Carruthers touched Fletcher’s arm. ‘Let’s get over to the McMullans. You drive and I’ll call some of my old colleagues at the National Crime Agency. They might be able to give us an idea about who this bunch might be.’
* * *
Carruthers turned to Mr McMullan, a portly man in his late sixties whose bulbous red nose and vein-lined face told of someone who undoubtedly liked his drink. He reminded Carruthers of a cockerel in his roost. ‘Can you go over a few details again?’ he asked the man.
He and Fletcher had been ushered into the kitchen where they were sitting at a heavy oak table opposite an original Aga. Mr and Mrs McMullan sat opposite them, their chairs angled away from each other, indicating that they’d had some sort of argument.
‘Have you had any tradesmen in the house in the last few months?’ Fletcher addressed her question to Mrs McMullan.
Carruthers studied the grey-haired woman. If her husband was the rooster, then, with her beady nervous eyes darting between the two of them, she was the hen.
‘We’ve already answered that,’ said Mr McMullan. ‘Why are you repeating the same questions? Why aren’t you out doing your job, catching whoever’s responsible?’
Carruthers was well used to this question. He also understood how the McMullans would be feeling – upset, vulnerable, violated and, no doubt, poorer. The Vettriano hadn’t been fully insured, according to Watson. The McMullans simply hadn’t wanted to pay the premiums. He kept his thoughts to himself. ‘It’s surprising what else people remember after the first interview. Well?’ he asked.
Mr McMullan sighed.
‘Can you think of anyone?’
‘No, except we had a leaky roof so we called someone in about that. We’ve already given the details. But they never saw the Vettriano, didn’t need to come in the house at all.’
‘Well,’ said Mrs McMullan, ‘I did make him a cup of tea so he came into the kitchen. But he didn’t come through the main hall,’ she added quickly. ‘He used the tradesmen’s entrance.’
‘Am I right in thinking the tradesmen’s entrance leads straight into the kitchen?’ said Carruthers, surprised that he hadn’t been asked to use the tradesmen’s entrance too.
‘Yes, it’s through that door, there,’ said Mr McMullan.
‘So other than the kitchen he didn’t come into the house at all?’ said Carruthers.
‘Oh dear,’ said Mrs McMullan.
‘What now?’ asked Mr McMullan who, Carruthers was realising, wasn’t the most patient of men.
‘I’ve just remembered he asked to use the toilet.’
‘Oh for God’s sake, woman,’ said Mr McMullan.
Mrs McMullan fiddled with her wedding ring as she said, ‘I think I may have forgotten to mention that in the previous interview.’
‘Where’s the nearest bathroom?’ asked Fletcher, standing up and disappearing to the door. She poked her head round the corridor.
‘Out of the kitchen, two doors down, on the left.’
‘So at that point he was unaccompanied in the house?’ asked Carruthers.
‘Yes,’ said Mrs McMullan, ‘but he was only gone a few minutes.’
‘But in those few minutes he could have done a recce of a couple of the downstairs rooms, including the living room where the Vettriano was hanging,’ said Fletcher. ‘Have you ever used that company before?’
‘No,’ said Mrs McMullan.
‘We’ll need the name of the firm before we leave, and some contact details,’ said Fletcher.
Mrs McMullan nodded.
Carruthers turned to Mr McMullan. ‘Who knew you owned a Vettriano?’
Mr McMullan shrugged. He picked up a wooden pipe that was lying on a sideboard. Opening a drawer, he extracted a packet of tobacco and started pulling the strands out. Maddeningly, he took what Carruthers felt was an age to respond.
‘Our friends, but we’ve already given you the names. Anyone who’s been here for a dinner party. Some of the people I know at the golf club.’
‘Why would you have told them?’ asked Carruthers.
Mr McMullan looked up. ‘You don’t seriously think anyone at the golf club’s responsible, do you, man?’
‘Why not?’ asked Carruthers.
‘Because they’re all vetted. Anyway, as I’m sure you know Jack Vettriano’s a local boy. Some of my friends at the club know him personally. He’s come up in conversation occasionally.’
Carruthers wondered if McMullan had seized the opportunity to brag about the fact he had an original Vettriano. Perhaps that had been his downfall.
‘You know much about Vettriano’s work?’ asked Carruthers.
‘Most of his paintings are in the hands of private collectors. He has some very famous fans,’ said Mrs McMullan. ‘Hollywood actor Jack Nicholson, composer Tim Rice and actor Robbie Coltrane have all got paintings by him.’
Owning an original would put the McMullans in good company, then, thought Carruthers. But once more kept his own counsel. He had a particular dislike of golf and golfers and knew of more than one career criminal who had membership of an exclusive golf club. In his experience, some of the wealthiest people made the most ruthless of criminals.
‘Which golf club do you belong to?’ asked Carruthers.
‘It’s very exclusive membership,’ said Mr McMullan. ‘You’ll be barking up the wrong tree.’
Carruthers’ eyes narrowed. Exclusive membership. He knew what that meant. No black people or women. And if it had been based down south, no doubt stuffed full of UKIP voters. He wondered if he was being unfair. He knew he could be judgemental. It was something he was trying to change. Old habits died hard, though. ‘The name of the golf club?’ asked Carruthers.
‘What the hell’s that got to do with anything?’ asked Mr McMullan, laying his pipe down on the side.
‘Mr McMullan, I can chase the criminals you want caught or I can waste time chasing down your background, which would you rather?’ said Carruthers. But then he thought, Go easy on them. They’re bound to be feeling rattled.
‘I’m a member of Carrockhall. Your superior’s Superintendent Bingham, isn’t he?’ asked McMullan. ‘I’ve met him a few times at clubhouse functions.’
Carruthers groaned inwardly. Hairs had prickled as soon as McMullan said Carrockhall. Carruthers knew Bingham was a keen golfer and not his greatest fan. All he needed now was to fall foul of the golfing buddy paradigm. Great.
‘Can we see the rest of the house, please?’ said Carruthers.
Mr and Mrs McMullan stood up.
‘This won’t just be a random burglary,’ said Carruthers as they were led by Mr McMullan out of the kitchen through the hall. ‘Whoever’s responsible will have carefully targeted you. They will at some point have gained entry to the house, possibly taken photos of your works of art and gone away and done their research. This is the third property to have been targeted in the last few weeks.’
‘Yes, and what are you actually doing about it?’ asked Mr McMullan.
Carruthers sighed. Looking up and ignoring the question he said, ‘Have you got any other valuable paintings?’
‘Why do you ask? Looks like they got what they wanted. None of the others are as valuable,’ said Mr McMullan. He directed them into a large airy living room which led through glass doors to a smaller conservatory. This smaller room was a mess. Carruthers surveyed the scene. In the middle of the ripped carpet still lay the stone bird bath that had been hurled through the glass conservatory doors allowing the thieves entry.
Carruthers stepped back into the living room and looked around him. His eyes settled on the dirty bare wall where the frame of the Vettriano had been. There were two smaller paintings on the walls. Rural scenes. Both looked like originals. Even the gilt-edged frames looked original. ‘My advice to you would be to get your other paintings fully insured. And don’t talk about them at the golf club,’ he added. ‘You never know who’s listening.’
‘Oh yes, I suppose you’ve got a point, man,’ said Mr McMullan. ‘There’s always staff around.’
Walking away out of the room Carruthers stopped for a moment and turned round. ‘I wasn’t thinking about the staff. It’s the club members I’d be worried about.’
* * *
No sooner had they returned to the station than Detective Constable Brown walked towards Carruthers waving a slip of paper.
‘Four-by-four’s been reported stolen outside Cupar. Owners were on holiday. Just back lunchtime today.’
‘Pretty shitty homecoming,’ said Carruthers, taking the slip of paper out of Brown’s outstretched hand. ‘That could be our burnt-out vehicle. Round the team up, will you.’ Carruthers looked at his watch. ‘We’ll start the brief at four.’ He calculated he just had time to get himself a coffee and make a phone call to the boys at the National Crime Agency.
Carruthers rolled up his shirtsleeves before he began the brief. He wished he’d bought a fresh shirt to work with him. His collar felt grubby and the acrid smell from the fire still clung to his clothes.
‘OK, listen up,’ he said. ‘Four-by-four’s been reported stolen just outside Cupar. What’s the betting it’s the same vehicle? And before you ask, there’s nothing back from the SOCOs yet.’ There was a collective groan. Carruthers put his hands up for silence. ‘It’s not, however, all bad news. I’ve spoken to pals at the National Crime Agency and this has all the hallmarks of a gang currently operating out of the South East of England. MO’s virtually identical. Targeting elderly people in isolated spots for their valuable works of art. Stealing a different vehicle for each job then abandoning and torching it.’
‘Shite, that’s all we need,’ said Harris, ‘more English folk in Scotland.’ He yelped as a paper dart thrown expertly by Fletcher hit him squarely on the nose.
‘Anyway, like I mentioned,’ said Carruthers, ‘if it is them, the boys at the NCA have talked me through a probable modus operandi.’
‘Which is?’ said Fletcher.
‘Stealing art to order. Most likely shipped off to a buyer in the US via the Republic of Ireland.’
‘Ireland?’ asked Harris.
‘Apparently Ireland is the gateway for stolen art between Britain and North America.’ Carruthers rubbed a sooty smudge he spotted on his shirt. It got worse.
‘Do you seriously think a gang from the South East of England would be operating north of the border?’ said Fletcher.
‘We can’t rule it out,’ said Carruthers. ‘What we do know at this stage is that this will be a huge operation, no doubt involving some seriously wealthy and influential people.’ He cast his eye over to Harris. ‘Not the redistribution of wealth from rich to poor that you imagined, sergeant.’
‘And let’s not forget,’ continued Carruthers, ‘that although my friends at the NCA have told me this particular gang are not interested in hurting people, which is good news, if indeed it is the same gang, we’ve been lucky that so far there’s been no physical harm done to the victims. Let’s not underestimate how ruthless criminals like this can be. Art theft is often used to fund other criminal activities. Gangs often have links to money laundering, guns and drugs and, according to the NCA, are becoming increasingly violent.’
‘Did your pals down at the NCA tell you anything else?’ asked Harris, repairing the bent nose of Fletcher’s paper plane.
‘The annual theft of art and antiques in the UK is estimated to be worth £300 million,’ said Carruthers. ‘More costly than vehicle crime and second only to drug dealing in terms of criminal proceeds.’
Harris put down the paper plane and looked up at Carruthers.
‘To answer your question, as a matter of fact they did,’ said Carruthers. ‘Told us to check out the local flying schools and private airfields.’
Harris frowned but the dawn of recognition lighted on Fletcher’s face.
‘They could be taking aerial photographs of the homes they’re going to rob, although you could get that information from Google Earth,’ she said. ‘Anyway, either way, they’d be looking for the most isolated spots. Places furthest away from police stations. Roads leading in, roads out, that kind of thing. Where best to ditch the vehicle. In fact they’ve probably got a map of Fife marked with potential locations. If we’re smart, we might even be able to predict the next robbery.’
‘The NCA are going to send details of this gang,’ said Carruthers. ‘They know who they are, just don’t have enough evidence to arrest them. The gang members live in Kent. But, like I said, let’s not assume it’s the same gang just because the modus operandi is similar, could be a copycat. The geography is against the Kent gang doing this. They’ve never been known to travel this far north before. And there is one other thing. This gang from Kent have been stealing works by lesser-known artists. They haven’t stolen any big-name stuff.’
The brief continued for another hour, at the end of which Carruthers’ stomach growled, reminding him he’d not stopped for lunch. He thought of the sausage roll he’d picked up on the way to work but hadn’t yet eaten.
‘How likely do you think it is to be this gang from down south?’ asked Fletcher, as other members of CID filed out of the room, leaving just the two of them.
‘Well,’ said Carruthers, ‘there’s a couple of things bothering me. I said in the brief the MO was almost the same. But I also said the group down south go for lesser-known artists.’
‘So?’ said Fletcher. ‘Perhaps they got lucky up here.’
‘Let’s take this to the coffee machine,’ said Carruthers, leading the way.
A few minutes later he was blowing on his coffee, back against the coffee machine in the hall. Fletcher sipped hers.
‘One of the boys at the NCA said something interesting,’ said Carruthers. ‘He said the true art to a heist isn’t the stealing, it’s the selling.’
‘Meaning criminals who steal high-value artworks tend to be better thieves than businessmen.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means the better known the artist, the less likely the thief will be able to sell the picture on. According to this guy at the NCA, the rate of recovery of a masterpiece is ninety per cent, whereas for a lesser-known work it’s a paltry ten per cent, so it makes sense for the professional art thief to target works by lesser-known artists. Apparently these works are less likely to be registered on international databases and don’t make headlines when they go missing.’ He took a sip of coffee, stared into the cup thoughtfully.
‘I have to admit I know very little about art theft,’ said Fletcher. ‘I’ve never worked on a case like this before. I always thought the criminal would have high-end artworks stolen to order to furnish his or someone else’s ostentatious home.’
Carruthers laughed. ‘That’s a popular misconception the public hold, I’m sure. I blame Ian Fleming for that.’
‘What’s Ian Fleming got to do with it?’
‘Have you never read Dr No? He bragged to Bond he’d stolen a Goya to order. In fact the storyline of the stolen artwork was based on a real life theft from the National Gallery the year before.’ Carruthers enjoyed a good Bond book, much preferring them to the films. ‘Apparently the public loves the idea of the super-villain stealing priceless works of art to order. But what the guy at the NCA said is that in reality no international criminal would really want the attention a missing masterpiece invites.’ Having said that Carruthers had a vague memory of a heist in Paris some years back. Hadn’t it involved stealing a Picasso and Matisse to order for dishonest collectors? It clearly did happen, but must be rare.
‘How do you know that stuff about James Bond and the missing Goya?’
‘I went to an Ian Fleming exhibition in London a few years ago,’ said Carruthers. He remembered the occasion well. He’d taken his then wife. They’d rowed. He couldn’t even remember what the row had been about now. Something small, no doubt. Stupid. He put all images of his ex-wife out of his mind. ‘I’m just wondering if it’s a different gang. Not a gang of professional art thieves at all but ordinary criminals involved in other types of criminal activity, like drugs or guns. Then one day they realise what big money’s involved in art theft. They decide to give it a go. They’ve heard about the gang down south and decide to copy their tactics.’ He looked up at Fletcher. ‘Sorry, just thinking things through.’ They walked back to his office. Somewhere in the distance he heard a phone ringing.
Carruthers sat down behind his desk and gestured for Fletcher to pull up a chair. Fletcher put her coffee down on his desk, took the proffered chair. Smoothed her black skirt down before sitting. ‘Surely they’d already be on our radar. I don’t know any gangs that would fit that description in Fife, do you?’ said Fletcher. ‘Or elsewhere in Scotland. Nothing on the database. And we’ve registered the stolen artworks on the stolen property index in case they turn up in other parts of the country.’
Carruthers continued, ‘There’s just one other problem with this theory and that is that the art heist usually involves stealing from public galleries, not private collections. Anyway, like I said, the NCA are sending us details of the Kent gang. At least it’s a start but I think it would be dangerous to just assume it’s them.’
‘I’ll say one thing,’ said Fletcher, ‘if they’re not pros they’re certainly doing a good impression of professional art thieves. So far, they’ve left no clues, there’ve been no descriptions of the perpetrators. It’s been a textbook heist.’
Except it isn’t, thought Carruthers. After Fletcher had left his office he looked at the congealed remains of the sausage roll and pushed it away. Still hungry, he headed to the canteen, picked up a limp looking ham sandwich and another black coffee and went back to his office. He was three bites in and thinking that it tasted every bit as bad as it looked and that he should have just finished off the cold sausage roll when Fletcher put her head round the door again.
‘What is it?’ he asked. He noticed she had her handbag on her right shoulder and her lightweight jacket over her left arm.
‘We’ve just received an anonymous phone call. Woman’s body’s been found on Kinsale beach over at a secluded part of Pinetum Park Forest.’
Taking another bite of his sandwich, Carruthers stood up, dumping the remains in the bin. ‘You’d better fill me in as we go,’ he said, with his mouth full. He sighed, thinking of yet another evening lost to the job. ‘Hope you didn’t have plans tonight?’
Fletcher raised her eyebrows. ‘Not anymore.’
Well I hope that chapter has whet your appetite for more!!! You can find out more about Mark of the Devil and Tana Collins at the other fabulous stops on the #BlogBlitz!
Who is Tana Collins?
Edinburgh based Tana Collins is the author of the popular Jim Carruthers detective series set in Fife. Her debut novel, Robbing the Dead, published February 2017, became a No 1 Amazon bestseller for Scottish crime fiction. Care to Die, the follow up in the series, also became a Top 10 Amazon bestseller. Published on 1st June 2017 Care to Die was described by Peter Robinson, author of DCI Banks, as “A finely plotted mystery. Tana Collins racks up the suspense on this one. DI Jim Carruthers is a cop to watch.” In September 2017 having won one of the coveted Spotlight places at Bloody Scotland Tana supported Lynda La Plante on stage.
Her third novel, Mark of the Devil, was published 24th April 2018. Author Leigh Russell writes of it, “A cracking read. The suspense never lets up.”
Tana is a trained Massage Therapist and Stress Management Consultant.