Thursday, April 30, 2015

True Crime

The next meeting will be Tuesday, May 26th at 6:30pm and the topic up for discussion will be the novels of Louis L’Amour.  Pick any of his books and come tell us about it!  Due to a scheduling conflict, our June meeting will be canceled.  On the bright side, you’ll have two whole months to select and read the perfect book on Real Life Adventures for the July meeting.  I’ll be bringing a selection of those for your perusal to the May meeting.

(amazon) During Prohibition, while Al Capone was rising to worldwide prominence as Public Enemy Number One, the townspeople of rural Templeton, Iowa—population just 428—were busy with a bootlegging empire of their own. Led by Joe Irlbeck, the whip-smart and gregarious son of a Bavarian immigrant, the outfit of farmers, small merchants, and even the church monsignor worked together to create a whiskey so excellent it was ordered by name: "Templeton rye."

Just as Al Capone had Eliot Ness, Templeton’s bootleggers had as their own enemy a respected Prohibition agent from the adjacent county named Benjamin Franklin Wilson. Wilson was ardent in his fight against alcohol, and he chased Irlbeck for over a decade. But Irlbeck was not Capone, and Templeton would not be ruled by violence like Chicago.

Gentlemen Bootleggers tells a never-before-told tale of ingenuity, bootstrapping, and perseverance in one small town, showcasing a group of immigrants and first-generation Americans who embraced the ideals of self-reliance, dynamism, and democratic justice. It relies on previously classified Prohibition Bureau investigation files, federal court case files, extensive newspaper archive research, and a recently disclosed interview with kingpin Joe Irlbeck. Unlike other Prohibition-era tales of big-city gangsters, it provides an important reminder that bootlegging wasn’t only about glory and riches, but could be in the service of a higher goal: producing the best whiskey money could buy.

(amazon) In an era that witnessed the rise of celebrity outlaws like Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger was the most famous and flamboyant of them all. Reports on the man and his misdeeds - spiced with accounts of his swashbuckling bravado and cool daring - provided an America worn down by the Great Depression with a salacious mix of sex and violence that proved irresistible. In Dillinger's Wild Ride, Elliott J. Gorn provides a riveting account of the year between 1933 and 1934, when the Dillinger gang pulled over a dozen bank jobs and stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. A dozen men - police, FBI agents, gangsters, and civilians - lost their lives in the rampage, and American newspapers breathlessly followed every shooting and jail-break. As Dillinger's wild year unfolded, the tale grew larger and larger in newspapers and newsreels, and even today, Dillinger is the subject of pulp literature, serious poetry and fiction, and film. What is the power of his story? Why has it lingered so long? Who was John Dillinger? Gorn illuminates the significance of Dillinger's tremendous fame and the endurance of his legacy, arguing that he represented an American fascination with primitive freedom against social convention. Dillinger's story has much to tell us about our enduring fascination with outlaws, crime and violence, about the complexity of our transition from rural to urban life, and about the transformation of America during the Great Depression.

(amazon) In the summer of 1969, in Los Angeles, a series of brutal, seemingly random murders captured headlines across America. A famous actress (and her unborn child), an heiress to a coffee fortune, a supermarket owner and his wife were among the seven victims. A thin trail of circumstances eventually tied the Tate-LeBianca murders to Charles Manson, a would-be pop singer of small talent living in the desert with his "family" of devoted young women and men. What was his hold over them? And what was the motivation behind such savagery? In the public imagination, over time, the case assumed the proportions of myth. The murders marked the end of the sixties and became an immediate symbol of the dark underside of that era.

Vincent Bugliosi was the prosecuting attorney in the Manson trial, and this book is his enthralling account of how he built his case from what a defense attorney dismissed as only "two fingerprints and Vince Bugliosi." The meticulous detective work with which the story begins, the prosecutor's view of a complex murder trial, the reconstruction of the philosophy Manson inculcated in his fervent followers... these elements make for a true crime classic. ?Helter Skelter ?is not merely a spellbinding murder case and courtroom drama but also, in the words of ?The New Republic?, a "social document of rare importance." 50 pages of black-and-white photographs

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
(amazon) On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered by blasts from a shotgun held a few inches from their faces. There was no apparent motive for the crime, and there were almost no clues. 
As Truman Capote reconstructs the murder and the investigation that led to the capture, trial, and execution of the killers, he generates both mesmerizing suspense and astonishing empathy. In Cold Blood is a work that transcends its moment, yielding poignant insights into the nature of American violence.

(amazon) Fatal Vision is the electrifying true story of Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, the handsome, Princeton-educated physician convicted of savagely slaying his young pregnant wife and two small children, murders he vehemently denies committing.  Bestselling author Joe McGinniss chronicles every aspect of this horrifying and intricate crime, and probes the life and psyche of the magnetic, all-American Jeffrey MacDonald, a golden boy who seemed destined to have it all. The result is a penetration to the heart of darkness that enshrouded one of the most complex criminal cases ever to capture the attention of the American public. It is a haunting, stunningly suspenseful work that no reader will be able to forget.

(amazon) The "Hillside Strangler" became an everyday headline that frightened Los Angeles for a year or so in the late 1970's. During that year, bodies of young women started showing up on the hillsides around the city. But the horror waned beside the revelations that came to light in what became the longest criminal trial in American history--BEFORE O. J. Simpson's 1994 trial--and one of the most controversial The Hillside Strangler was thought to be one person with a real fast pace in killing. With TWO OF A KIND, Darcy O'Brien gives the inside story and is the first book to make the shocking disclosure that "the Hillside Strangler" was not one man, but two, and not only that -- they were were cousins! In Mr. O'Brien's riveting story examines the relationship between the murderers and the drive behind their hideously evil crimes. It tells the entire story of the Hillside Stranglers as it has never been told before. He begins with the stranglers themselves who just decided one night out of boredom that they hated women and wanted to kill them (even as one strangler was living with a pregnant girlfriend and hiding the truth of his killing spree from her).

(amazon) A portrait of a tortured young man, arrested for a series of kidnappings and rapes, explores the world of a multiple personality, whose traumatic childhood shattered his mind into twenty-four distinct personalities.  Daniel Keyes is also the author of Flowers for Algernon.

Bitter Harvest by Ann Rule
(amazon) In this harrowing New York Times bestseller, Ann Rule is at her masterful best as she winnows horrific truths from the ashes of what seemed like paradise in Prairie Village, Kansas. Rule probes the case of Debora Green, a doctor and a loving mother who seemed to epitomize the dreams of the American heartland. A small-town girl with a genius IQ, she achieved an enviable life: her own medical practice, a handsome physician husband, three perfect children, and an opulent home in an exclusive Kansas City suburb. But when a raging fire destroyed that home and took two lives, the trail of clues led investigators to a stunning conclusion. Piece by piece, Ann Rule digs beneath this placid Midwestern facade to unveil a disturbing portrait of strangely troubled marriages, infidelity, desperation, suicide, and escalating acts of revenge that forever changed dozens of lives.

(amazon) Shots rang out in Savannah's grandest mansion in the misty,early morning hours of May 2, 1981.  Was it murder or self-defense?  For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this hauntingly beautiful city of moss-hung oaks and shaded squares.  John Berendt's sharply observed, suspenseful, and witty narrative reads like a thoroughly engrossing novel, and yet it is a work of nonfiction.  Berendt skillfully interweaves a hugely entertaining first-person account of life in this isolated remnant of the Old South with the unpredictable twists and turns of a landmark murder case.

It is a spellbinding story peopled by a gallery of remarkable characters: the well-bred society ladies of the Married Woman's Card Club; the turbulent young redneck gigolo; the hapless recluse who owns a bottle of poison so powerful it could kill every man, woman, and child in Savannah; the aging and profane Southern belle who is the "soul of pampered self-absorption"; the uproariously funny black drag queen; the acerbic and arrogant antiques dealer; the sweet-talking, piano-playing con artist; young blacks dancing the minuet at the black debutante ball; and Minerva, the voodoo priestess who works her magic in the graveyard at midnight.  These and other Savannahians act as a Greek chorus, with Berendt revealing the alliances, hostilities, and intrigues that thrive in a town where everyone knows everyone else. 

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil is a sublime and seductive reading experience.  Brilliantly conceived and masterfully written, this enormously engaging portrait of a most beguiling Southern city has become a modern classic.

(amazon) Jon Krakauer’s literary reputation rests on insightful chronicles of lives conducted at the outer limits. He now shifts his focus from extremes of physical adventure to extremes of religious belief within our own borders, taking readers inside isolated American communities where some 40,000 Mormon Fundamentalists still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God.

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

Cruel Death by M. William Phelps
(amazon) It was Memorial Day weekend, the start of the summer season. Thousands headed to Ocean City, Maryland, to enjoy its scenic beaches, lively boardwalk, and trendy nightclubs. Among the bright-spirited vacationers was a couple with a much darker idea of fun. Erica Sifrit, a former honor student, was packing a gun in her Coach bag. Her husband, B.J., an ex-Navy SEAL, was trained in violence. What started as a chance encounter with another couple ended with two dismembered victims buried in a Delaware landfill. M. William Phelps updates this modern-day "Bonnie and Clyde" saga to create a haunting account of money, madness, sex, and murder. . . 

(amazon) At about 9 oclock on the morning of November 9, 1971, soon after sending her three children off to school, Helen List sat in the kitchen drinking a cup of coffee. She was still in her nightgown and slippers.John List came up behind her and put a 9mm German-made Steyr automatic pistol to the side of her head and fired once. She died instantly. The bullet smashed into the opposite wall... John made his way up the stairs to the third floor where his 85-year old mother, Alma, wearing a housedress, was preparing breakfast in her efficiency kitchen She was standing near the storage room that adjoined her kitchen when a 9mm bullet ripped through the side of her scull. Alma List was dead before her body crumpled in a heap on the floor, the righteous carnage had begun.

True Crime Authors of Note:

Remember these TV shows?

America’s Most Wanted, hosted by John Walsh, dramatized true crimes in hopes that viewers could give information leading to the solving of crimes.  It aired for 23 years, from 1988 to 2011.

Unsolved Mysteries, hosted by Robert Stack, investigated mysteries of all kinds ranging from murders to UFO sightings.  It also aired for 23 years, from 1987 to 2010.

Bonnie and Clyde (DVD, 1967)
( Producer/star Warren Beatty had to convince Warner Bros. to finance this film, which went on to become the studio's second-highest grosser. It also caused major controversy by redefining violence in cinema and casting its criminal protagonists as sympathetic anti-heroes. Based loosely on the true exploits of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker during the 30s, the film begins as Clyde (Beatty) tries to steal the car of Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway)'s mother. Bonnie is excited by Clyde's outlaw demeanor, and he further stimulates her by robbing a store in her presence. Clyde steals a car, with Bonnie in tow, and their legendary crime spree begins. The two move from town to town, pulling off small heists, until they join up with Clyde's brother Buck (Gene Hackman), his shrill wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons), and a slow-witted gas station attendant named C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard). The new gang robs a bank and Clyde is soon painted in the press as a Depression-era Robin Hood when he allows one bank customer to hold onto his money. Soon the police are on the gang's trail and they are constantly on the run, even kidnapping a Texas Ranger (Denver Pyle) and setting him adrift on a raft, handcuffed, after he spits in Bonnie's face when she kisses him. That same ranger leads a later raid on the gang that leaves Buck dying, Blanche captured, and both Clyde and Bonnie injured. The ever-loyal C.W. takes them to his father's house. C.W.'s father disaproves his son's affiliation with gangsters and enters a plea bargain with the Texas Rangers. A trap is set that ends in one of the bloodiest death scenes in cinematic history. The film made stars out of Beatty and Dunaway, and it also featured the screen debut of Gene Wilder as a mortician briefly captured by the gang. Its portrayal of Bonnie and Clyde as rebels who empathized with the poor working folks of the 1930s struck a chord with the counterculture of the 1960s and helped generate a new, young audience for American movies that carried over into Hollywood's renewal of the 1970s. Its combination of sex and violence with dynamic stars, social relevance, a traditional Hollywood genre, and an appeal to hip young audiences set the pace for many American movies to come. ~ Don Kaye, Rovi

Dead Man Walking (DVD, 1995)
Tim Robbins' second directorial effort (after the political satire Bob Roberts) was this drama based on a true story, which explores the issue of capital punishment. Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) is a nun and teacher living in rural Louisiana. One day, she receives a letter from Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), who is scheduled to be executed soon for the rape and murder of two teenagers. After meeting Matthew, Sister Helen agrees to serve as spiritual counselor and see what she can do to stay the execution. However, Matthew's claims of innocence seem shaky at best, and it's clear he's a reprehensible, amoral racist. When it becomes obvious that Matthew's sentence will be carried out, Sister Helen offers what comfort she can to Matthew, but also tries to guide him to an open admission of the extent of his crimes and an acceptance of divine forgiveness, telling him "I want the last face you see to be the face of love." Susan Sarandon won an Oscar for her performance as Sister Prejean, and Sean Penn was similarly nominated for Best Actor as Matthew. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

The Girl Next Door (DVD, 1997)
(rottentomatoes) Based on the harrowingbest-seller by author Jack Ketchum, director Gregory Wilson's The Girl Next Door presents a fictionalized account of the shocking ordeal endured by Sylvia Likens -- an innocent Indiana teen who was systematically tortured, raped, and murdered by a suburban divorcée and a group of neighborhood children in 1965. Shortly after losing their parents in a deadly car accident, Meg Laughlin (Blythe Auffarth) and her younger sister, Susan (Madeline Taylor), are sent to live in the Indiana home of Ruth Chandler (Blanche Baker) and her three sons, Willie (Graham Patrick Martin), Donny (Benjamin Ross Kaplan), and Ralphie (Austin Williams). Upon arriving in the quiet suburban neighborhood, Meg quickly forges a warm bond with local neighbor boy David Moran (Daniel Manche). Strangely, Ruth seems to harbor some sort of unknown grudge against her pretty young charge, and it isn't long before events in the Chandler home begin to take an ominous turn. Now, as Ruth Chandler begins her slow descent into madness, the basement of a typical middle-class home is about to become the scene of a crime that would shock and repulse an entire nation.

An American Crime (DVD, 2007)
(rottentomatoes) The true story of a young girl held captive by her insane caretaker comes to life in this disturbing film from Ella Enchanted director Tommy O'Haver. Hard Candy's Ellen Page stars as Sylvia Likens a teenager who, along with her sister, is left to live temporarily with seemingly-mild-mannered housewife Gertrude Baniszewski, played by Catherine Keener. Unfortunately for Sylvia, Gertrude soon snaps and holds her hostage in harsh conditions until the former's eventual death. Bradley Whitford costars as the prosecutor tasked with trying the case against Baniszewski.

(amazon) In the horrifying annals of American crime, the infamous names of brutal killers such as Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, and Berkowitz are writ large in the imaginations of a public both horrified and hypnotized by their monstrous, murderous acts. But for every celebrity psychopath who’s gotten ink for spilling blood, there’s a bevy of all-but-forgotten homicidal fiends studding the bloody margins of U.S. history. The law gave them their just desserts, but now the hugely acclaimed author of The Serial Killer Files and The Whole Death Catalog gives them their dark due in this absolutely riveting true-crime treasury. Among America’s most cold-blooded you’ll meet
• Robert Irwin, “The Mad Sculptor”: He longed to use his carving skills on the woman he loved—but had to settle for making short work of her mother and sister instead.
• Peter Robinson, “The Tell-Tale Heart Killer”: It took two days and four tries for him to finish off his victim, but no time at all for keen-eyed cops to spot the fatal flaw in his floor plan.
• Anton Probst, “The Monster in the Shape of a Man”: The ax-murdering immigrant’s systematic slaughter of all eight members of a Pennsylvania farm family matched the savagery of the Manson murders a century later.
• Edward H. Ruloff, “The Man of Two Lives”: A genuine Jekyll and Hyde, his brilliant scholarship disguised his bloodthirsty brutality, and his oversized brain gave new meaning to “mastermind.”
Spurred by profit, passion, paranoia, or perverse pleasure, these killers—the Witch of Staten Island, the Smutty Nose Butcher, the Bluebeard of Quiet Dell, and many others—span three centuries and a host of harrowing murder methods. Dramatized in the pages of penny dreadfuls, sensationalized in tabloid headlines, and immortalized in “murder ballads” and classic fiction by Edgar Allan Poe and Theodore Dreiser, the demonic denizens of Psycho USA may be long gone to the gallows—but this insidiously irresistible slice of gothic Americana will ensure that they’ll no longer be forgotten.

(amazon) Here is the ultimate book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the non-name Anonymous, by the writer the Huffington Post says “knows all of Anonymous’ deepest, darkest secrets.”

The narrative brims with details unearthed from within a notoriously mysterious subculture, whose semi-legendary tricksters—such as Topiary, tflow, Anachaos, and Sabu—emerge as complex, diverse, politically and culturally sophisticated people. Propelled by years of chats and encounters with a multitude of hackers, including imprisoned activist Jeremy Hammond and the double agent who helped put him away, Hector Monsegur, Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy is filled with insights into the meaning of digital activism and little understood facets of culture in the Internet age, including the history of “trolling,” the ethics and metaphysics of hacking, and the origins and manifold meanings of “the lulz.”

(amazon)   Future Crimes provides a mind-blowing glimpse into the dark side of technological innovation and the unintended consequences of our connected world. Goodman offers a way out with clear steps we must take to survive the progress unfolding before us. Provocative, thrilling, and ultimately empowering, Future Crimes will serve as an urgent call to action that shows how we can take back control over our own devices and harness technology’s tremendous power for the betterment of humanity—before it’s too late.

Imitation Game (DVD, 2014)
(rottentomatoes) During the winter of 1952, British authorities entered the home of mathematician, cryptanalyst and war hero Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) to investigate a reported burglary. They instead ended up arresting Turing himself on charges of 'gross indecency', an accusation that would lead to his devastating conviction for the criminal offense of homosexuality - little did officials know, they were actually incriminating the pioneer of modern-day computing. Famously leading a motley group of scholars, linguists, chess champions and intelligence officers, he was credited with cracking the so-called unbreakable codes of Germany's World War II Enigma machine. An intense and haunting portrayal of a brilliant, complicated man, The Imitation Game follows a genius who under nail-biting pressure helped to shorten the war and, in turn, save thousands of lives. (c) Weinstein

(amazon) The Day of the Locust meets The Devil in the White City and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in this juicy, untold Hollywood story: an addictive true tale of ambition, scandal, intrigue, murder, and the creation of the modern film industry.
By 1920, the movies had suddenly become America’s new favorite pastime, and one of the nation’s largest industries. Never before had a medium possessed such power to influence. Yet Hollywood’s glittering ascendancy was threatened by a string of headline-grabbing tragedies—including the murder of William Desmond Taylor, the popular president of the Motion Picture Directors Association, a legendary crime that has remained unsolved until now.
In a fiendishly involving narrative, bestselling Hollywood chronicler William J. Mann draws on a rich host of sources, including recently released FBI files, to unpack the story of the enigmatic Taylor and the diverse cast that surrounded him—including three beautiful, ambitious actresses; a grasping stage mother; a devoted valet; and a gang of two-bit thugs, any of whom might have fired the fatal bullet. And overseeing this entire landscape of intrigue was Adolph Zukor, the brilliant and ruthless founder of Paramount, locked in a struggle for control of the industry and desperate to conceal the truth about the crime. Along the way, Mann brings to life Los Angeles in the Roaring Twenties: a sparkling yet schizophrenic town filled with party girls, drug dealers, religious zealots, newly-minted legends and starlets already past their prime—a dangerous place where the powerful could still run afoul of the desperate.
A true story recreated with the suspense of a novel, Tinseltown is the work of a storyteller at the peak of his powers—and the solution to a crime that has stumped detectives and historians for nearly a century.

UPDATE!!!  Yesterday, April 29th, Tinseltown won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime!!!

(amazon) London, 1913. An exquisite strand of pale pink pearls, worth more than the Hope Diamond, has been bought by a Hatton Garden broker, capturing the attention of both jewelers and thieves. In transit to London from Paris, the necklace vanishes without a trace.
Joseph Grizzard, “the King of Fences,” is the leader of a vast gang of thieves in London’s East End. Having risen from the deadly streets to become a wealthy family man, Grizzard still cannot resist the sport of crime, and the pearl necklace proves an irresistible challenge.
Inspector Alfred Ward has joined the brand-new division of the Metropolitan Police known as “detectives.” Having caught some of the great murderers of Victorian London, Ward is now charged with finding the missing pearls and the thief who stole them.
In the spirit of The Great Train Robbery, this is the true story of a psychological cat-and-mouse game. Thoroughly researched and compellingly colorful, The Great Pearl Heist is a gripping narrative account of this little-known, yet extraordinary crime.

Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin
(amazon) The action begins in October of 1875, as Secret Service agents raid the Fulton, Illinois, workshop of master counterfeiter Ben Boyd. Soon after Boyd is hauled off to prison, members of his counterfeiting ring gather in the back room of a smoky Chicago saloon to discuss how to spring their ringleader. Their plan: grab Lincoln's body from its Springfield tomb, stash it in the sand dunes near Lake Michigan, and demand, as a ransom, the release of Ben Boyd --and $200,000 in cash. From here, the action alternates between the conspirators, the Secret Service agents on their trail, and the undercover agent moving back and forth between the two groups. Along the way readers get glimpses into the inner workings of counterfeiting, grave robbing, detective work, and the early days of the Secret Service. The plot moves toward a wild climax as robbers and lawmen converge at Lincoln's tomb on election night: November 7, 1876.

The Birmingham Horrors by William Stanley Hoole)
(The old-fashioned subtitle) Being a complete and accurate account of Richard R. Hawes’s murder of his wife, Emma, and daughters, May and Irene, in Birmingham, Alabama, on December 3-4, 1888, and his casting their iron-weighted bodies into the lakes at East Lake and Lakeview, together with the subsequent story of the Great Birmingham Riot of December 8 during which an attempt was made by two thousand irate citizens to storm the jail and lynch the accused murderer, resulting in the massacre of a dozen citizens and the wounding of many more, and the mustering out of the Alabama State Militia, and the eventual trial, conviction, and public hanging of Hawes on February 28, 1890.  (This is a 1980 reprint of a late 1800’s original publication)

Bugsy (DVD, 1991)
(rottentomatoes) Brutal and batty as a March hare, notorious gangster Bugsy Siegel played a crucial role in making Las Vegas the gambling capitol of the United States. This arresting biopic starring Warren Beatty offers a remarkably cliché-free look at the mobster's life and times.

American Crime Story (Forthcoming TV show)

Slated to debut in October 2015, this new show from the creators of, and following the same format as, American Horror Story, plans to focus each 10-episode season on a different real-life crime. The first season will tackle the O.J. Simpson trial.

What are YOU reading?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Art & Artists: Fiction

The next Genre Reading Group meeting will be on Tuesday, April 28 at 6:30pm and the topic up for discussion is true crime.  Our most recent meeting topic was novels about art and artists of all kinds. 

We love it when newspaper comics are SO on target!

The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova
( Andrew Marlow, a psychiatrist, has a perfectly ordered life--solitary, perhaps, but full of devotion to his profession and the painting hobby he loves. This order is destroyed when the renowned painter Robert Oliver attacks a canvas in the National Gallery of Art and becomes Marlow's patient.

When Oliver refuses to talk or cooperate, Marlow finds himself going beyond his own legal and ethical boundaries to understand the secret that torments this silent genius, a journey that will lead him into the lives of the women closest to Robert Oliver and toward a tragedy at the heart of French Impressionism.

Moving from American museums to the coast of Normandy, from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth, from young love to last love, The Swan Thieves is a story of obsession, the losses of history, and the power of art to preserve human hope.

( As The Devil Wears Prada demystified the world of high fashion, this funny and insightful debut novel dishes the crazy and captivating Manhattan art scene. When painter Jeffrey Finelli is run over by a cab, the art world clamors for the instantly in-demand work by the late “emerging artist”—especially an enormous painting called Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him.

Gallery receptionist and aspiring artist Mia McMurray finds herself at the center of the hype. She is an amused witness as a Birkin-toting collector, a well-muscled Irish artist, a real estate baron, and Lulu herself, the artists niece and muse, battle over the brand-new masterpiece. In the midst of the madness, Mia finds her own creative expression and artistic identity, not to mention love.

The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
( On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting — one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum — in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting — the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner — is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.

Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing — and not seeing — the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
( In this richly imagined fiction, Harriet Scott Chessman entices us into the world of Mary Cassatt's early Impressionistpaintings. Chessman's gift for storytelling mingles with her extraordinary understanding of these beautiful and significant works of art. This literary tour de force rises out of a sustained inquiry into art's relation to the ragged world of desire and mortality.

The story is told in the absorbing and lyrical voice of Mary Cassatt's sister Lydia, as she poses for five of her sister's most unusual paintings (reproduced in this edition). Ill with Bright's disease and conscious of her approaching death, Lydia contemplates her world with courage, openness, and passion. As she addresses and comes to accept her own position as her sister's model, she asks stirring questions about love and art's capacity to remember.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper illuminates Cassatt's brilliant paintings even as it creates a compelling portrait of the brave and memorable model who inhabits them with such grace, and the times in which they both lived.

Marie, Dancing by Carolyn Meyer
( Marie van Goethem, a fourteen-year-old ballet dancer in the famed Paris Opera, has led a life of hardship and poverty. For her, dancing is the only joy to counter the pain inflicted by hunger, her mother's drinking, and her selfish older sister. But when famed artist Edgar Degas demands Marie's presence in his studio, it appears that her life will be transformed: He will pay her to pose for a new sculpture, and he promises to make her a star. As Marie patiently stands before Mr. Degas each week, she dreams about supporting her family without being corrupted like most young dancers. She dreams about a life as a ballerina on the stage of the Opera. And she dreams about being with her true love. In this deeply moving, historically based account, Carolyn Meyer examines the life of the model for Edgar Degas's most famous sculpture, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. Includes an author's note.

Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore
( It is the color of the Virgin Mary's cloak, a dazzling pigment desired by artists, an exquisite hue infused with danger, adventure, and perhaps even the supernatural. It is... Sacre Bleu.
In July 1890, Vincent van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers attempt to take his own life... and then walk a mile to a doctor's house for help? Who was the crooked little "color man" Vincent had claimed was stalking him across France? And why had the painter recently become deathly afraid of a certain shade of blue?

These are just a few of the questions confronting Vincent's friends — baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec — who vow to discover the truth about van Gogh's untimely death. Their quest will lead them on a surreal odyssey and brothel-crawl deep into the art world of late nineteenth-century Paris.

Oh la la, quelle surprise, and zut alors! A delectable confection of intrigue, passion, and art history — with cancan girls, baguettes, and fine French cognac thrown in for good measure — Sacre Bleu is another masterpiece of wit and wonder from the one, the only, ChristopherMoore.

( A sweeping romance set at a bohemian artist colony on the picturesque coasts of pre-war England, Summer in February is based on the true story of painter Sir Alfred Munnings (Dominic Cooper, Mamma Mia!, My Week with Marilyn) and his blue-blood best friend Gilbert (Dan Stevens, "Downton Abbey"). Born into a working-class family, Munnings rises to become one of the premiere British artists of his time, winning the affection of aristocratic beauty Florence Carter-Wood (Emily Browning, Sleeping Beauty). But when Gilbert falls for Florence as well, a love triangle emerges with tragic consequences. (c) Tribeca

Helvetica (DVD)
( In 2005 a number of provocative, award-winning ads appeared that touted the Helvetica font; Gary Hustwit explores the subject protractedly with his feature-length essay film Helvetica. The documentary, produced in 2007 (and thus commemorating the typeface's 50th anniversary), uses the omnipresent font as a lens through which it examines contemporary visual culture and how typeface is used, aesthetically, spatially, and culturally, to impart shape and character to urban environments. Hustwit then segues into a discussion with a number of acclaimed designers about their work, their creative visions and processes, and the aesthetic reasoning behind various decisions regarding font. Hustwit interviews over 20 design experts in the film, including Michael C. Place, Paula Scher, Matthew Carter, and David Carson. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi

( The Picture of Dorian Gray is a familiar story of greed, sin, and arrogance. A young man, infatuated with his own handsomeness and youth as depicted in a perfect portrait, makes a bargain he will come to regret. No one can save him from his appetite for pleasure and his awful fate--not the man who idolizes him, not the woman who loves him, and not even himself!

Published in 1890, The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's only novel. At first the subject of intense controversy, it has endured as a classic for years. A cautionary tale of innocence sacrificed for the sake of vice, The Picture of Dorian Gray is a classic whose lessons are still relevant today.

Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe
( The Oval Portrait is a short horror story written by Edgar Allan Poe and first published in 1842. Our protagonist takes refuge in an abandoned castle and discovers a room with a series of paintings accompanied by a small book describing them. His attention is attracted by an oval portrait depicting a young woman of rare beauty. The book tells of the artist falling in love with the girl and marrying her. It was not soon after that the girl realized her husband was already married to his art. One day the painter decides to paint his wife and in doing so with such fervor, he didn't notice that as the days passed she became more and more saddened. When the portrait was finished he was shocked to discover that the painting of his wife was much, much more than life-like.

( This classic novel of Bohemian life by Henry Murger is based on a series of magazine sketches later made into a successful play. The novel is a series of loosely united chapters beginning with the first meeting of the four main characters ("Gustave Colline, the great philosopher, Marcel, the great painter, Schaunard, the great musician, and Rodolphe, the great poet" [123]) and ending with their departure from Bohemia in favor of bourgeois life. Jules Janin called the book "a first chapter in the code of youth" (qtd. in Maurice 111).

His purpose in telling the story, he said, was to glorify and legitimize Bohemia. "Scenes de la Vie de Boheme is only a series of social studies, the heros of which belong to a class badly-judged until now, whose greatest crime is lack of order, and who can even plead in excuse that this very lack of order is a necessity of the life they lead" (36), wrote Murger at the end of the first chapter.

( The third film from pop-music-obsessed director Baz Luhrmann tweaks the conventions of the musical genre by mixing a period romance with anachronistic dialogue and songs in the style of his previous Romeo+Juliet (1996). Ewan McGregor stars as Christian, who leaves behind his bourgeois father during the French belle époque of the late 1890s to seek his fortunes in the bohemian underworld of Montmartre, Paris. Christian meets the absinthe- and alcohol-addicted artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (John Leguizamo), who introduces him to a world of sex, drugs, music, theater, and the scandalous dance known as the cancan, all at the Moulin Rouge, a decadent dance hall, brothel, and theater that's the brainchild of Harold Zidler (Jim Broadbent). Christian also meets and falls into a tragically doomed romance with the courtesan Satine (Nicole Kidman), who becomes the star of the play he's writing, which parallels the couple's romance and utilizes rock music from a century later, including songs by Nirvana, Madonna, the Beatles, and Queen, among others. Loosely based on the opera Orpheus in the Underworld, Moulin Rouge was shown in competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Karl Williams, Rovi

The Great Man by Kate Christensen
( From the acclaimed author of TheEpicure's Lament, a novel of literary rivalry in which two competing biographers collide in their quest for the truth about a great artist.
Oscar Feldman, the "Great Man," was a New York city painter of the heroic generation of the forties and fifties. But instead of the abstract canvases of the Pollocks and Rothkos, he stubbornly hewed to painting one subject — the female nude. When he died in 2001, he left behind a wife, Abigail, an autistic son, and a sister, Maxine, herself a notable abstract painter — all duly noted in the New York Times obituary.

What no one knows is that Oscar Feldman led an entirely separate life in Brooklyn with his longtime mistress, Teddy St. Cloud, and their twin daughters. As the incorrigibly bohemian Teddy puts it, "He couldn't live without a woman around. It was like water to a plant for him." Now two rival biographers, book contracts in hand, are circling around Feldman's life story, and each of these three women — Abigail, Maxine, and Teddy — will have a chance to tell the truth as they experienced it.
The Great Man is a scintillating comedy of life among the avant-garde — of the untidy truths, needy egos, and jostlings for position behind the glossy facade of artistic greatness. Not a pretty picture — but a provocative and entertaining one that incarnates the take-no-prisoners satirical spirit of Dawn Powell and Mary McCarthy.

Impromptu (DVD)
( Amandine Aurore Lucie Dupin, better known in the literary world as George Sand, not only took a man's name, but trotted around wearing pants and smoking cigars in public. No great shakes today, but in the 1800s she was perhaps the most famous (or infamous) woman in the world. One of the first original celebrities, aside from her garb and literary output, she was known to inspire many duels and broken hearts among other famous hedonist artists. One character describes her in Impromptu, as "that graveyard." The film engages in a sexual roundelay among Sand's (Judy Davis) many friends -- Eugene Delacroix (Ralph Brown), Alfred DeMusset (Mandy Patinkin), Franz Liszt (Julian Sands), and Frederick Chopin (Hugh Grant). The entire crew heads off to the summer estate of the Duke and Duchess d'Antan (Anton Rodgers and Emma Thompson), invited there by the culture-vulture hosts. Sand takes a bead on the sickly Chopin and spends her time throwing herself at him. Also on hand is Liszt's mistress Marie d'Agoult (Bernadette Peters) and Felicien Mallefille (Georges Corraface), Sand's recently jilted lover. Mallefille is jealous of any of the other guests who glance in Sand's direction and continually challenges them to duels. Marie, on the other hand, is enlisted by Sand to deliver a note to Chopin. But Marie, jealous of Sand, delivers the note substituting her name for Sand's. And as the weekend continues, the sexual merry-go-round continues at full tilt.

Now You See Her by Whitney Otto
( Kiki Shaw, a game show question writer, is about to turn forty. She doesn't mind that, except that she's also disappearing. Parts of her that were always there are vanishing, and no one seems to notice. As she contemplates this experience, Kiki makes certain discoveries about her life and those of the women closest to her. Perhaps they will all evanesce bit by bit, until they detect where they misplaced themselves and their once-promising lives.

Bellocq’s Ophelia: Poems by Natasha Trethewey
( In the early 1900s, E.J. Bellocq photographed prostitutes, which were first collected and published as Storyville Portraits. In Natasha Trethewey's stunning second collection, she creates the life of Ophelia in the image of one of Bellocq's subjects. Through Ophelia, a very white-skinned black woman living in a brothel, a sad and poignant story is told with beautiful precision and depth.

Pretty Baby (DVD)
( After making a series of acclaimed and controversial films in his native France, director Louis Malle made his American debut with this disturbing but visually beautiful story about Hattie (Susan Sarandon), a prostitute working in New Orleans' Storyville district at the turn of the century. When Hattie becomes pregnant, she opts to keep her baby and gives birth to a daughter named Violet, raising her in the brothel where she continues to work. Twelve years later, Violet (Brooke Shields) is old enough to attract the attentions of the brothel's customers, but emotionally has one foot in the adult world of her surroundings and the other in the naïveté of childhood. With Hattie's consent, Violet's virginity is auctioned off to the customers of the house; but for Violet, the pull between childhood and adulthood becomes most clear -- and most painful -- when she draws the affections of Bellocq (Keith Carradine), a photographer who has been working on a photo series about Storyville prostitutes. Violet's blend of childlike innocence and adult sensuality is profoundly attractive to him, but their relationship quickly becomes problematic, especially when Hattie leaves Violet behind to get married.

Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner
( In the City of Lights, at the dawn of a new age, begins an unforgettable story of great love, great art—and the most painful choices of the heart. With this fresh and vibrantly imagined portrait of the Impressionist artist Edgar Degas, readers are transported through the eyes of a young Parisian ballerina to an era of light and movement. An ambitious and enterprising farm girl, Alexandrie joins the prestigious Paris Opera ballet with hopes of securing not only her place in society but her family’s financial future. Her plan is soon derailed, however, when she falls in love with the enigmatic artist whose paintings of the offstage lives of the ballerinas scandalized society and revolutionized the art world. As Alexandrie is drawn deeper into Degas’s art and Paris’s secrets, will she risk everything for her dreams of love and of becoming the ballet’s star dancer?