Kids’ Mysteries & the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist

Twenty three years to the day after criminals posing as police officers broke into Boston’s Isabelle Stewart Gardner museum, the FBI made an amazing announcement today. Agents know the identity of the thieves who pulled off one of the most famous art heists in history; they just don’t know where the art is yet or how to get it back.

This was jaw-dropping news for me. The history & art geek in me would have been fascinated anyway; add to that the fact that this heist is a plot thread in my Silver Jaguar Society mysteries, and I was practically bouncing off the ceiling over this news. If you’ve read the first mystery in that series, CAPTURE THE FLAG, you know that it’s about three kids — Anna, Henry, and Jose — whose families are part of the Silver Jaguar Society, a secret society to protect the world’s artifacts. The Society’s arch enemies are members of an international art theift gang known as the Serpentine Princes. That group’s criminal masterminds are suspected in just about every unsolved art heist in history — including the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist — a plot thread that explored a little bit in the second book, HIDE AND SEEK, which comes out next week and a lot more in the third book, MANHUNT, which hits shelves in 2014.

Writer-friend Erin Dionne also has an upcoming mystery with ties to the heist — MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING comes out in July — so we spent much of this afternoon tweeting back and forth in our geeky state of excitement after the news broke.  And because 140-characters just aren’t enough sometimes, we decided to have a longer conversation about the heist, our books, and our thoughts on the whole hullabaloo. Here’s my interview with Erin…

So Erin… You are the only other person I know who got as excited as I did about today’s headline in the Boston Globe:

FBI says it has identified the thieves in Gardner Museum heist; paintings’ location still unknown

Since we’re both art lovers and mystery writers, I thought it might be fun to extend our Twitter conversation a bit and talk about our upcoming kids’ mysteries with ties to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Heist. MOXIE AND THE ART OF RULE BREAKING comes out this summer, right?  What’s the connection?

Thanks so much for hosting me, Kate! MOXIE releases on July 11, and it’s basically a treasure hunt centered around the Gardner heist. Moxie has two weeks to find the most valuable stolen art in the world–a task that’s baffled the FBI for decades. But Moxie has some tools that the FBI doesn’t have. You’ll have to wait til July to find out what they are.

I’d love to hear about what drew you to this heist and what kind of research you did, too!

The art was stolen a few years before I moved to Boston to go to college, so I’ve never seen the missing paintings. From the first time I stepped into the Gardner, I was absolutely fascinated by it–the heist and the museum itself. The museum is beautiful and quirky and so very Isabella (it used to be her house! She even designed it!) The empty frames on the wall simultaneously made me feel sad, guilty, and angry. How dare those thieves ruin something so beautiful!

Isabella Stewart Gardner was a woman with a bold, brilliant personality who was ahead of her time. I wanted to learn about her, and about what happened to her precious museum. So when I decided to write this story, I researched by reading about the heist (Ulrich Boser’s THE GARDNER HEIST), I watched the documentary “Stolen,” and became a member of the Gardner Museum. I took tours and visited. trying to map out what happened. Like a lot of other people who have learned about the case, I got a little nutty over it. I came up with my own theories as to what happened to the art (I’m not convinced it’s still in the US, actually), and I dream of one day finding it.

    I have to find my car keys first, though.

(You and me both, Erin. Also my phone…and my other blue sock…and…)  Anyway…did the development today require you to do any revision? Just the author’s note, maybe? 🙂

At this point, I’m not making any changes to the book. The author’s note details the theft and info about how to contact the FBI. As of today, they haven’t really released information that’s specific to who had the paintings (and they admit they lost track of them a decade ago); so my author note is still okay. WHEW.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget seeing those empty frames at the Gardner Museum. It’s such a chilling image – and such a reminder of what was lost.  I’m guessing they’re mentioned in your book (they are in my 3rd installment of the Silver Jaguar Society mysteries) and I thought it might be neat for us to share those quick excerpts.  Sound like fun?

Yes! There are a few references to the frames in my novel. Here’s one:

The Dutch Room is big and rectangular, and everything in it oozes richness—not rich like money-rich, but rich like thick and beautiful richness. Two of the empty frames were across from where we walked in: big, golden squares that showed only wallpaper and tiny shreds of canvas from where the paintings were cut out. Ollie and I gasped as we stood in front of them.

Tiny plaques with the names of the paintings—Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black, still hung on the wall, lonely.

    “Creepy, isn’t it?” The security guard had come up behind us.

            -Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking (Dial, 2013) pg. 65

Creepy indeed — and haunting, too. Thanks for this conversation, Erin – can’t wait to read all about Moxie’s adventures in Boston!

I love that our books share this fascinating topic! Thanks, Kate!


To learn more about Moxie and Erin’s other great books, check out her website.

I’m visiting Erin’s blog today, too – so head on over there if you’d like to read more about the Silver Jaguar Society connection to the Gardner Museum — and read a very, VERY early sneak preview of the third book in the series, MANHUNT.

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