A Disgraced Journalist Finds Himself Involved in an Epic Art Heist

Writer Michael Ostrowski’s latest novel, Lost in the Fog, is a love letter to San Francisco—one full of shootouts, art thieves, and lots of booze. “I really wanted to make San Francisco its own character,” explains Ostrowski. “I lived there for eight years and just fell in love with the place. Every weekend, I would explore a new section of the city, like Strawberry Hill, and so many of those places are featured in my story.”

Alongside the Golden City, readers are introduced to a host of other colorful characters in this twisty thriller. Camden Swanson is a former journalist who can’t quite seem to pull himself together after being fired, much to the chagrin of his long-suffering artist girlfriend: 

The official reason listed for his termination was “misconduct by egregious disregard for facts.” His superiors claimed he maliciously fabricated a story to create an Orson Welles–type War of the Worlds hoax. But at the time of the incident, Camden believed the city was being attacked by half-monkey, half-snakelike creatures. Dropping acid can do that to you.

While working as a gallery attendant, Camden becomes unexpectedly mired in an art heist that couldn’t possibly go more wrong. Also roped into the plan is Veronica Zarcarsky, a hotel worker who has big dreams of becoming a journalist. 

Camden’s personal demons are at once painful to read and completely relatable—given the turmoil of recent years—as he continues to self-destruct: “With each chicken wing and beer, his tenuous grasp on morality began to fade away. He was committed to being the thieves’ hostage tomorrow and had taken the leap of faith in believing they would keep their word and not kill him.” 

Even as he and Veronica are forced to ultimately work together to save their own lives, Veronica’s eagerness to investigate and establish herself as a journalist is a compelling contrast to Camden’s hardened, defeatist attitude at having had it all and lost it. Yet as Camden’s situation spirals further out of control, becoming bigger than himself, Camden does something remarkable: He pulls himself together.

And that’s a message that Ostrowski hopes resonates with audiences of all backgrounds. “The character of Camden really came from that place in my life where I just didn’t know what to do next….So it’s ultimately a story of redemption, of learning how to go out and live your dreams,” explains the author. 

The novel may have grown out of Ostrowski’s experience of getting to know San Francisco, but that’s not where the similarities end. Prior to moving there, he worked as a museum gallery attendant and would often spend his time while on duty scribbling poems and other snippets in his notebook. “[The job] was a bit boring,” he says, “but I kind of viewed it as an art history class. I read so many books about artists, particularly Henri Matisse, that the ideas just started bubbling. But it wasn’t until I actually moved to San Francisco that the story elements really came together.”

Writing came early and naturally to Ostrowski, who first remembers dashing off a story about a trip he took with his parents when he was about 8 years old. Currently residing in Miami Beach, where he writes and works in human resources for a hotel management company, he previously pursued a career as a journalist while dabbling in screenplays and short stories. Heavily influenced by detective writers like Robert B. Parker and Dashiell Hammett, Ostrowski pivoted from literary fiction in his first novel (A Model Community, 2003) to the mystery/thriller genre for his current release.

And it’s safe to say he nailed it. Kirkus Reviews praises Lost in the Fog, noting, “thriller enthusiasts will want to add this well-sculpted heist drama to their collections.”

When Ostrowski began writing Lost in the Fog, he was initially unsure of what form it would take. Novella? Short story? Something else entirely? Partway through writing what would turn out to be a novel, and after spending so many years with the now-beloved characters, he realized that he had enough material for not just one or two books, but at least three. The next book in the series, which is partially written and (mostly) planned out, will find Camden and Veronica in Hawaii. The third novel will take place on Spain’s famed Camino de Santiago. “I feel like there is a lot more to explore with these two characters,” says Ostrowski. “Not only in terms of their journalistic exploits, but also their relationship to and with each other.”

Alongside the adrenaline-fueled chases, hails of bullets, and nail-biting interrogations, readers will also find a healthy dose of humor to ease the tension. Whether it’s Camden describing the taste of expensive wine as “light but complex…with a hint of clowns on a bright summer day” or two heist accomplices who have been sworn to secrecy spilling their guts to a pair of indifferent strippers, the characters somehow make trying to stay alive inherently humorous. 

There is much to be said for keeping a sense of humor and viewing life itself as an adventure. And that lightness, often found within dark moments in the novel, is something Ostrowski hopes audiences will appreciate. “Life isn’t always what you want,” he explains. “But if you have that positive attitude, you can still laugh about it.”

Andrea Moran is a professional copywriter and editor who loves all things books.