Thursday, June 25, 2020

False Light:An Art History Mystery by Claudia Riess

False Light: An Art History Mystery
by Claudia Riess


GENRE:   Mystery



Academic sleuths Erika Shawn, art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, a more seasoned art history professor, set out to tackle a brain teaser.  This time the couple—married since their encounter in Stolen Light, first in the series—attempt to crack the long un-deciphered code of art forger Eric Hebborn (1934-1996), which promises to reveal the whereabouts of a number of his brilliant Old Master counterfeits.  (Hebborn, in real life, was a mischievous sort, who had a fascination with letters and a love-hate relationship with art authenticators.  I felt compelled to devise a puzzler on his behalf!)  After publication of his memoir, Drawn to Trouble, published in 1991, he encrypts two copies with clues to the treasure hunt.  On each of the title pages, he pens a tantalizing explanatory letter.  One copy he sends to an art expert; the second, he releases into general circulation.  The catch: both books are needed to decipher the code.

When the books are at last united 25 years later, Erik and Harrison are enlisted to help unearth their hidden messages.  But when several research aides are brutally murdered, the academic challenge leads to far darker mysteries in the clandestine world of art crime.  As the couple navigate this sinister world, both their courage under fire and the stability of their relationship are tested.


Excerpt Three:

 “You must try a crostini,” came a vaguely familiar voice from above. Harrison looked up, surprised to encounter the striking figure of Aldo Fabbri pressing forward a fair young tray-bearer, his hand at the small of her back.

Harrison’s love fest with Florence was instantly tarnished. “Good to see you,” he said nevertheless, extending his hand to Aldo before plucking an hors d’oeuvre of bread and chicken liver pate from the waitress’s tray. “Come sit down,” he suggested with a near-genuine smile.

“Certamente,” said Aldo. “But first we must request the wine—from the Fabbri vineyard, of course.” Aldo turned to the waitress. “Per favore, a bottle of the Chianti Classico riserva,” he slickly commanded, with a proprietary ogle. “As you might recall,” he said, turning back to Harrison, “it’s our signature wine, made from the Sangiovese grape. This year’s crop”—he glanced heavenward—“supremo!” With a nod, he dismissed the waitress, then pulled out a chair.

“I didn’t see you at the conference,” Harrison said, trying not to recollect in vivid detail Aldo’s play for Erika’s affections at their encounter in Tuscany over a year ago. The seduction attempt had taken place when he and Erika had visited the Fabbri estate as part of their art recovery mission. Erika had not succumbed to Aldo’s efforts, but her moment of hesitation had caused Harrison great consternation. What a presumptive asshole! he silently hurled at himself. Erika had been in the initial stages of breaking free of her mistrust in men because of what she was beginning to see in Harrison, and he had not shown her the least bit of empathy in response. “The lecture hall was rather crowded,” he said, thrusting his attention to the subject at hand. “Perhaps you were hiding in the rear?”

“Alas, I arrived too late to attend the talks,” Aldo said, smoothing back his coal black mane.

He’s lost the golden highlights, Harrison realized. Gives the bastard a less flighty look.

“However, I did hear your talk on Gericault was admirable—ah, here’s our wine,” Aldo noted, at the waitress’s approach.

The wine was uncorked; the glasses filled; hearty samples downed; Harrison’s authentic praise begrudgingly delivered.

“To a successful book tour!” Aldo sang, raising his glass. “Salute!”

As they clicked glasses, Aldo cocked his head, as if at a sound in the distance. “I’m wondering. Whatever became of that woman you were with—Erika Shawn was her name, una donna molto bella e special! As I recall, a free spirit finding herself tethered to Puritanism, or merely conflicted by it. Either way, a pity.”

“Tethered to me, if you must know,” Harrison said, as coolly as his clenched jaw would allow. “As my wife.”

“Ah, lucky man to have tamed her!” Aldo looked about. “But where is she? Another toast is in order!”

“Back home, in New York. Working.”

“Yes?” Aldo gave him a bemused smile. “Quite a long tether, I’d say.”


AUTHOR Bio and Links:

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and has edited several art history monographs.

Buy Link:

The book is on sale for only $0.99 during the tour.

Interview with Claudia Riess

Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reins of the story?

Most of the time I’m guiding them in the direction I’ve decided they should go.  Sometimes they give me a hard time of it.  When Erika, for instance, chose to be jealous of her baby’s nanny at the start of Knight Light, art mystery in the works, I questioned this inclination, but realized that given the circumstances, it was right to follow her lead. The times when the characters are most apt to wander off on their own are when they’re exchanging words, either lovingly or facing off.  When sparring, they have a tendency to try to outwit each other, and I have to put a stop to it.  (This is a fun game, but who are we kidding? Of course I’m the one at fault.)

Convince us why you feel your book is a must read

I think a “must read” is transformative, or teaches you survival skills, or at least how to change a tire.  I think my book will entertain you, and maybe connect you with a character with whom you’ll find confirmation or consolation.  You may even learn a few things about certain artists and their lives, and about the machinations peculiar to the world of art crime.  

Have you written any other books that are not published?

I’ve written and illustrated a couple of children’s books that were bought by publishing houses, but never published.  For publisher Richard Seaver, one was to be Grove Press’s first children’s book. After a year or so, I was told there’d been a hang-up with their London distributor. They released the book to me, but I never took it elsewhere.  Grove has remained the first and last publisher I’ve submitted it to.  Another was bought by KDI-Lion Press.  A month or two later it went out of business.  These books, with their merry-cartoonish illustrations, sit in a closet in my bedroom along with a few other children’s books I’ve never brought anywhere.  Maybe someday.   

Pen or typewriter or computer?

Pen for scribbling sudden ideas that strike me while exercising, watching the news, trying to go to sleep.  Typewriter never, though an ancient laptop serves as my device between a yellow pad and the computer that contains my work-in-progress.  When I have a definite and imperative idea for a scene or a sequence of events, and a scribble is too casual, the computer too formal, I go full speed ahead on the old laptop, not caring about words running together or syntax or spelling, just the general sense and direction of things.

Anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?  

Stay safe in these trying times.  Do what you can to heal the wounds.




Claudia Riess will be awarding a $50 Amazon or BN GC to a randomly drawn commenter via rafflecopter during the tour.

Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:  


  1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

    1. Until I went to college, I planned to be a dancer/choreographer. Then I gravitated to teaching--Philosophy or English. Although I always enjoyed writing, it wasn't until my mid-twenties,when I felt compelled to write a novel that had been brewing for a while, did I take writing more seriously.

  2. Thanks, T's Stuff, for featuring my book!

  3. I appreciate hearing about your book, thanks and for the giveaway also. Thanks so much!

  4. Really nice share, glad to come by and learn about your book, cheers.

  5. Who is your favorite author still currently writing?

  6. Do you have any ideas for a follow up?