Jean-Loup’s task seems simple. A Melbourne-based financial advisor, he has been sent by ATSIC to Mission Hole Community to conduct an audit of its art centre. But Jean-Loup soon realises that nothing in this community is as simple as it appears.
The community’s most noted artist is Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway, whose works have achieved international recognition and attracted high prices. But something disturbing has happened. At the unveiling of her latest painting, the picture was found slashed and with the words “the artist is a thief” scrawled across it. The shock of this act and the implications of the message has sent shock waves around the art community. Is Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway a thief? And what exactly is it she has stolen?
When Jean-Loup Wild arrives at the community to investigate the running of the arts centre and to try to reinstate its credibility following these events, he meets with unexpected obstacles and opposition. On his first night in the community he comes across the murdered corpse of the person most likely to help in his investigation. No one else in the community even wants to talk to him, let alone help him.
Not only is the investigation proving difficult, but Jean-Loup has to face personal conflicts as well. he has a personal link to the community – his mysterious older sister Duchess whose history he would like to trace and who is partially the reason for his accepting this job. He also finds himself increasingly attracted to Petra, the beautiful Aboriginal woman who helps him in his investigations.
As he confronts his past, Jean-Loup must also confront the present. He must try to unravel the mystery of the murder, the elusive Margaret Thatcher Gandarrway, and the message on the painting, whilst working on a playing field where everyone but him seems to know the rules. Whilst piecing together the puzzle he gets to know himself and the society in which he live son a more intimate level than ever before.
The Artist is a Thief, winner of the The Australian/Vogel Literary Award, is a philosophical detective novel with a difference, sure to provoke thought as it entertains.
The Artist is a Thief, by Stephen Gray
Allen & Unwin, 2001.