Debut author V.T. Davy’s “engrossing thriller” Black Art, chosen as one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Indie Books of 2012, takes a wisecracking amateur PI with a twist, adds Nazis, the Stasi, missing masterpieces and a seductive movie star, then arranges it all ably between Dresden, a “modern-day Weimar Berlin” once the former stronghold of East Germany, and the Channel Islands.
Born in London, Davy, an accounting officer, has lived “in the island of Jersey for almost 40 years.” Laughing, he adds, “I could never claim to be an Islander. That would upset too many Islanders, because you have to be born here. But, I am as close as you can get.”
Living in this archipelago, about 14 miles from the coast of France, “in the little L-shape of Normandy,” Davy has always been keenly aware of its World War II past. “Locally, the topic of the occupation by the Germans has been covered from every possible aspect,” he says. “It couldn’t be really more documented.”
Enter Arty Shaw, the senior genealogist for the Island Heritage Center and one of the most memorable protagonists of 2012. Arty also lives “in the island”—in this case, an amalgamation. “It’s a little bit Guernsey. It’s a little bit Jersey. It’s kind of generic.” He notes that their shared experiences “during the occupation were very similar, so it didn’t matter, really, which island I set it in.”
Hired to find out what happened to an Allied spy named Kay, Arty discovers that the only complete record of the woman is the propaganda artwork she left behind. Eventually, Kay’s trail leads Arty to a missing Monet, part of the uber-secret Sonderauftrag Linz, the Third Reich’s collection of the world’s greatest art.
“The very original spark for [the book] was genealogy,” according to Davy. “It was the idea that what a genealogist does to find out what has happened in a family tree is so similar to what the fictional detective is doing.”
And the impetus for invoking “Hitler’s vanity art project”? Davy’s “private passion” is going to art galleries. “When I’m in a big city, I always try and go to an art gallery, to spend a couple of hours and just soak in the art.”
If Black Art was a painting, it would be less impressionistic and more along the lines of the work Nazis labeled “degenerate.” It features gender dysphoria, trips to the “erotikhaus,” a lesbian BDSM love affair and a torture session of a less-consensual variety. Just the sort of pulp titillation one might expect from an author who studies “the classics.”
“I really like Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald,” says Davy, who has cultivated a large number of cisgender readers and a small, but growing, number of transgender readers. “For a modern writer, someone who’s more up-to-date, but still writes in that very classic style,” he suggests Philip Kerr and his Berlin Noir trilogy or the thrillers of Jack Higgins, a pseudonym of fellow Jersey resident, Harry Patterson.
The author’s next book, through his own Liberation Publishing, is A Very Civil Wedding: “a completely different book” in “a completely different style.”
“But Arty will be back,” Davy says, seemingly bowing to the character’s popularity. “He’ll be back in 2014.” The author even suggests, to the delight of Art lovers everywhere: “If I can get three books out of him there’ll be an ‘Art Trilogy,’ as it were.”