The Book Diva's Reads is pleased to participate in this Partners In Crime blog tour and host a visit from Frances Fyfield, author of Blood From Stone. Ms. Fyfield will be discussing what differentiates collectors and thieves (an idea that is central to her must-read book).
Marianne Shearer is at the height of her career, a dauntingly successful barrister, respected by her peers and revered by her clients. So why has she killed herself? Her latest case had again resulted in an acquittal, although the outcome was principally due to the death of the prime witness after Marianne’s forceful cross-examination. Had this wholly professional and unemotional lawyer been struck by guilt or uncertainty, or is there some secret to be discovered in her blandly comfortable private life? Her tenacious colleague Peter Friel is determined to find out of that last trial held the reason for her taking her own life. The transcript holds intriguing clues, but it is another witness at the trial who holds the key to the truth.
Collectors and Thieves
"She walked into the exhibition. There, on the far wall, was that glorious little painting she had always wanted. Without thinking, she took it off the wall, put it under her coat and walked back into the street."
The world divides in many ways. Those who have children those who don't, those with one kind of aspiration, those without any, those who are honest, those who aren’t, those who prefer argument to debate and those who would just as soon knock you over the head. There are those for whom ill-gotten gains are infinitely preferable to the fruits of hard earned labour. Those to whom debt is anathema and those who could not live without it. And then, the first and last of the great dividing lines, there are those who Collect and those who Don't. It roughly corresponds to those en route to heaven and those who might risk going to hell.
The boundary between Collectors and non Collectors is pretty thin. It can mark the difference between someone in the throes of developing criminal tendencies and the Innocent, who never will. Being a true Collector is a bit like a being a gambler with a set of dice always in sight. The minimalist versus the acquisitive would be one way of putting it, though it's more complicated than that. I'm talking about the Collector as the one who has the bug for amassing things of a certain type and who will do anything, or almost anything, to get another object of desire to add to the pile. Someone who dreams of it.
Book collectors are a benign case in point (though not always so benign). We all know people who have books as the foundations of their houses, books creating walls and tables and bringing down the attics. Not too many of these Collectors turn into Thieves, I hope. Maybe you're one of the other collecting kind, who favours furniture, motor cars, stuffed animals, ceramics, fabrics, photographs, cigarette cards, concert programmes, glass, works of Art. Believe me, if you collect pressed Autumn leaves from 1936, or bus tickets from 1954, I'm on your side. You are one of Mine. Collecting keeps us Collectors sane. We might otherwise go round hitting people.
My version of this condition is collecting paintings, which is why I'm currently writing about characters infected with this form of the disorder. Paintings and the collection thereof, have driven people mad. History is full of nutcases who've gone mental in pursuit of works of Art. Why do they do it? Why is it that collecting paintings, or other stuff, can turn a person into a criminal?
It's Love of a kind, of course, and Love makes criminals of us all.
Because I'm a Collector, I think I have a better understanding of thieves. Collecting Art is as mysterious as Art itself. As soon as humankind learned to draw and paint, they collected, even when starving. As soon as man was stirred by curious things that illuminated his world, he wanted to own them, be they gemstones or drawings in caves. The Romans were collectors of Greek antiquities; the British were collectors of European Art since ever they crossed the Channel. Half our famous institutions, the British Museum, included, are based on the work of ambitious collectors who brought work home, while the great American Collectors can be said to have rescued the Impressionists. Fascinating though they are, it isn't the major Collectors who interest me as much as the small- fry individuals with passions equally obsessive. Like me, and possibly you. Why do it?
One academic, studying the phenomenon of Collecting in the 1950s, had no hesitation in calling it a Disease, defining certain strands in the psyche of the Collector. First, the possessive instinct, the desire for the hunt, the need for spontaneous activity and risk in an otherwise passive or isolated life. The desire to break boundaries, to go out gambling and also, a pathological desire for social standing. Others studying the collecting phenomenon, say that the Collector wants to conquer the object he desires to own, his appetite made sharper by adversity and rivalry. The Collector may have little self- confidence in anything other than this strange way of mastering his own inferiority. He/ she will go to any length to acquire and add to the collection. (NB: an awful lot of these characteristics are found in high class Thieves.)
The Collector in pursuit of social standing and self-worth in a Society that might ignore him, may be the most dangerous of all. If his Collecting does not impress, fails to gain him veneration and respect, he becomes bitter and twisted and hides it away, himself also, to let his house collapse in upon itself. He may be the one who stabs the canvas and buries his treasures. There are of course, other Collectors who collect out of sheer love of the thing and a desire to rescue beauty, to look after it for as long as it takes, be it a book or a sketch. These are peaceful people, rescuers, preservers, sharers, but woe betide anyone who tries to steal from THEM. Stealing from honourable collectors makes Them, in turn, dangerous and volatile enemies. Steal from an honest Collector at your peril. You may turn a kind person into a savage, armed with weapons. Never, ever, try to steal someone else's children if you value your life.
Suitable themes for Crime novels? Oh yes.
I have never yet stolen a painting, although the desire to put something under my winter coat and walk away with it is not unfamiliar. Especially if the painting looks small, cold, and neglected.
My characters, my thieves, might not share my inhibitions.
About the author:
"I grew up in rural Derbyshire, but my adult life has been spent mostly in London, with long intervals in Norfolk and Deal, all inspiring places. I was educated mostly in convent schools; then studied English and went on to qualify as a solicitor, working for what is now the Crown Prosecution Service, thus learning a bit about murder at second hand. Years later, writing became the real vocation, although the law and its ramifications still haunt me and inform many of my novels.
I'm a novelist, short story writer for magazines and radio, sometime Radio 4 contributor, (Front Row, Quote Unquote, Night Waves) and presenter of Tales from the Stave. When I'm not working (which is as often as possible), I can be found in the nearest junk/charity shop or auction, looking for the kind of paintings which enhance my life. Otherwise, with a bit of luck, I'm relaxing by the sea with a bottle of wine and a friend or two." Frances Fyfield
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