I didn’t know it at the time, but the first glimmer of an idea for this book happened when, as a boy, I was changing TV channels on a rainy day and stumbled across a wonderful old British chestnut of a film called Kind Hearts and Coronets, vintage 1949. A black comedy starring Alec Guiness playing eight roles, it featured Dennis Price as Louis Mazzini, the outcast scion of an English Ducal family who murdered his way to the Dukedom to take revenge on them for rejecting his mother.
I was mesmerized as Louis artfully bumped off everyone in his way, making each seem like an accident, only to be undone when wrongly convicted of a murder which was actually a suicide. As he awaited the hangman, Louis penned a memoir, confessing to his killings. I have lovingly lifted this basic plot and, in homage to the film, used the names of three of its main characters, Louis, Sybil and Edie.
It was just a fond memory until some years ago my wife, Tracy Burtz, a highly talented artist, observed that a painter’s work was always worth more after they died. Instantly, I made a connection between her observation and the plot of Kind Hearts and Coronets. I imagined a story in which a down-on-his-luck artist, who had collected paintings by fellow artists, murders them one by one in a series of “accidents” to enhance the value of their paintings and cure his money woes. Book 1 mirrors the film’s plot. But the movie’s ending could never work for a modern novel, and so Book 2 was born.
As to several of the characters, I must also credit Tracy, as they are drawn from her life and people I met though her in the New York art scene. I hasten to add that none of them are Tracy, although Edie and Lilly have pieces of her. Which of the other characters come from her life can be guessed by some, but will remain a mystery to everyone else. The other characters, including Detective Fratello, “Queen Bea” Mitchell, Ricky Morales are pure inventions.
I must also acknowledge four people who provided incalculably valuable help in helping bring An Art to Murder to life. First is Lou Slovinsky, a friend and mentor who is also a gifted writer and editor. His comments were key to my first efforts to refine this manuscript, as was his encouragement.
Next was Peter Quinn, a talented novelist, former colleague, friend and Irish mensch. His suggestions resulted in a major evolution of the plot, and his enthusiasm for the story provided encouragement to me when I needed it.
Third was my dear cousin, Andrea Chambers, former journalist, former book editor and now Director of NYU’s Center for Publishing. She, too, provided sage advice that led to another re-write, as well as advice in navigating the publishing world.
Andrea also led me to the most recent editor of this work, Melanie Fleishman, a real pro who gave me feedback that helped take the story to a new level.
Finally, I wish to thank my sons, Andrew and Jonathan Luftman, and my brother-in-law, Stephen Josephs, all of whom provided support, encouragement and love.
I can only hope I have done well-deserved justice to a wonderful old plot, and to all of you.