Nina Bannister loves to paint, and she thinks her hobby is painless enough. But she is wrong. Her love of doing seascapes leads to a friendship with a young ex docent from The Chicago Art Museum–and to their entry into the murky and dangerous world of international art smuggling.
Can she save her young friend, who has been kidnapped to the mountains of southern Austria? Can she determine the identity and motives of the mysterious Red Claw? Can she see the real painting that is hidden beneath the false one?
Her success in these matters–indeed her very survival–depend on her ability to perform a last ditch Frame Change!
The Story behind Nina Bannister and Bay St. Lucy
T’Gracie has always read mysteries, beginning in elementary school with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys (a budding feminist even then, she liked the Hardy Boys better). By junior high she had moved on to Agatha Christie. After that she discovered Georges Simenon, Tony Hillerman, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Edmund Crispin, Ellis Peters, Maj Sjowall & Per Wahloo, Henning Mankell, Colin Dexter, and Alexander McCall Smith. Joe, who had previously published two novels and seen several of his plays performed, had been pestered for decades by T’Gracie to write a mystery.
Then it happened. One day in 2012 the two Reeses were driving back to their home in Lafayette, La., returning from a visit to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Their journey took them along the Mississippi gulf coast, where they happened upon the magical town of Bay St. Louis. Stopping the car they walked past seaside houses, sampled croissants from the Serious Bakery, wandered through artists’ studios, and walked along the beach. Refreshed, they continued their journey and together began planning what was ultimately to become Sea Change.
Nina Bannister and the citizens of Bay St. Lucy (Tom Broussard, Macy Peterson, Margot Gavin, Jackson Bennett, and Penelope Royal) are fictional-Furl, of course, is real, but the Reeses pull their adventures from past experiences that really happened and that remain until today fresh and vibrant in their minds. Following the university women’s basketball team (on which two of T’Gracie’s students played) inspired Game Change; attending a community theater performance in Jena, Louisiana, inspired Set Change; many summers spent in the wonderful city of Graz, Austria, made it possible to re-create the mysterious Castle Eggenburg, center of international art smuggling in Frame Change; and the real life discovery of a body in one of Lafayette’s drainage canals (or coulees) gave the inspiration for Oil Change.
As professors the Reeses find the most time to write during the summers and long winter breaks. At this point in the fall semester T’Gracie and Joe’s desks are covered with what seem hundreds of student essays and tests to grade; but characters, both heroes and villains, of Bay St. Lucy, remain alive, though temporarily dormant, in their minds. Still, at some time in the next months it will happen: the pile of papers will get graded, another murder will take place in Nina’s seaside home town, the wrong person will be blamed, and she will be called upon once again to help Moon Rivard and his well-meaning but not quite smart enough police colleagues ferret out the real killer.
Thank you so much for having us today, and a huge thanks to the readers for taking the time to stop by and get to know the story behind the “Change” novels, their protagonist Nina Bannister, and their creators, T’ Gracie and Joe Reese.
Margot Gavin could remember the day perfectly.
She could, in fact, remember everything about the interview. Down to the last word, the last gesture.
It had now been almost a year. At precisely nine thirty on the morning of Tuesday, October 14, she had entered her office prepared to deliver a standardized speech informing a young applicant for the position of docent at The Chicago Art Museum that she would not be accepted for the position.
She had opened her desk drawer, taken out of it a package of Galois cigarettes, and regarded the applicant, whose name was Carol Walker.
“They will not let us smoke anywhere in the museum, and so we have to go outside to a small area between the buildings. I hope you don’t mind, Ms. Walker.”
“I don’t mind.”
“You should mind. It’s barbaric; but then rules are rules.”
She had not met this young woman, but the Director of Educational Resources, Rebecca Simpson, had delivered an unenthusiastic, even scathing, report of the previous day’s interview.
“I just don’t––I just don’t see that she’s qualified at all. She does have a degree in Art History from…I don’t know where; but she’s primarily a literature person. She spent last year teaching English at some junior college. She just doesn’t seem to have the––well, the credentials for an institute of our standing.”
And here she was. Small, unimposing woman, rather slight, dark hair worn in bangs.
But something about her eyes…
And so she’d taken a package of matches from the same drawer—for she intended to smoke anyway, of course, rule or not—lit her cigarette, and blown smoke upwards, gazing out the window behind her, through which sailboats could be seen, seemingly motionless, idle, as sailboats always seemed to be.
“You don’t smoke?” she could remember asking.
“Drugs of any kind? Sorry, but I must ask these things.”
“Not even marijuana?”
“My God, what are we teaching our children these days? Ever been arrested?”
“I had been, at your age—what are you, twenty five?”
“Twenty eight! Well that changes the figure, doesn’t it? I had been, at age twenty eight, arrested five times, two of them even in this country.”
She could remember thinking then about the speech she was supposed to be giving:
‘While we certainly appreciate your enthusiasm, you must appreciate that, with such a large number of applicants…”
“There are a number of other museums in Chicago, smaller, but more equipped to serve as training grounds for young people wishing to become involved in museum administration. I could suggest…”
And she could remember wondering why she wasn’t giving the speech.
“And you are from?”
“I see. I was once in Atlanta, for a conference.”
“Our farm is east of Atlanta. North of Athens. In the mountains.”
“You’re a farm girl.”
It was at that point she could remember thinking that this girl, this Carol Walker, had a very nice smile.
“Timber raising. Sheep raising. Never off the farm until I was nearly twenty or so––then somehow I got to go to Europe.”
“And you loved it.”
“Yes. I’m a language nut. And an art nut. I lived in classrooms in various cities; and museums. I almost slept in the museums.”
“I’m sure you did. Yes. I’m sure you did.”
There had been a pause, and Margot could remember herself drawing hard on her Galois and saying for some reason:
“I once blew up a warehouse. Quite by myself, actually. There was no one in it, of course.”
“I don’t know. There are things to be said on both sides of the issue. In your interview yesterday with Rebecca Simpson you made a horrible pun.”
“Yes. I’m sorry about that.”
“She asked you how much money you’d expect to earn. And you said you only wanted to make a docent living.”
“Why ever did you make such a horrible pun? And in an interview! Why, child, would you do that?”
“Yes. Must have been.”
“It’s a very old pun, you know. I must have heard it first at…where, Oxford? No. Sao Paolo. My God, what was I doing in Sao Paolo?”
“No, you wouldn’t, of course. But a crucial interview, competing against so many other very qualified candidates. Were you so incredibly naïve as to think the thing original, or so incredibly stupid as to find it funny?”
“You would only make nine hundred a month, you know.”
“Do you have a personal life?”
“Good, so you can be flexible.”
“I’m nothing if not flexible.”
“What do you understand concerning the duties of a docent here.”
“And yet you applied for the job.”
“I thought I would learn what a docent did, after I became a docent.”
“I see. You tried teaching for a time?”
“I know because I read your teaching evaluations. The ones from––what god forsaken junior college was it?”
“There were several.”
“Yes, that’s true, now that I’m remembering. Dr. Simpson told me about them, and…well, let’s see what it says here—ah, you didn’t send in the mid-semester attendance reports, and the Dean of Liberal Arts emailed you and told you that the omission was ‘inexcusable.’”
“Yes, she did.”
“Is that why they fired you?”
“They didn’t actually fire me; they just said I shouldn’t come back.”
“Did you read your student evaluations?”
“I never saw them.”
“Of course, you didn’t; why should they show them to you? Several of your students said you were ‘the best teacher I ever had in my life.’ Those exact words. What do you think of that?”
“I suppose it shows the sad state of public education in this country.”
“What’s your favorite painting?”
“One on the third floor. It shows a town in Prussia.”
“Sourmire. French painter. He was a guest of the Duke of Brandenburg.”
“It’s a small town, you can tell. There’s a castle up on the hill in the middle of town. But the painting is about the main street. Only a few people are out. Some horses tied to hitching rails. It’s summer, and very early in the morning. The light is––I can’t really describe the light, but you can’t forget it. And it’s cold. It’s summer, but it’s cold.”
“How do you know it’s morning and not evening?”
“I don’t know; but you do.”
“Yes, you do, don’t you? Yes, you do. Well. Rebecca Simpson hates you and suggests that we not hire you.”
“I’m sorry she hates me.”
“Don’t be. She’s a chicken. Do you have any questions?”
“One or two.”
“Go ahead, please. Ask.”
“I was wondering what I was supposed to do here.”
“Oh, I don’t deal with that kind of thing. Anything else?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Then, that’s it. I have to go outside and smoke. Oh, by the way: try to develop some bad habits, won’t you?”
“That’s all we can ask. Good day.”
And Carol Walker had left.
About the Authors
Joe and Pam (T’Gracie) Reese have been co-writing the Nina Bannister mystery series since 2013. Frame Change is the fifth book in the series. Sea Change was the debut book followed by Set Change, Game Change and Oil Change. A sixth book, Sex Change, is due out later this year.
The Reeses, when not writing, enjoy planning elaborate, international trips and then not going, thus saving both money and time. They also enjoy gardening (and always plant too many tomatoes). They both teach at a mid-western university and walk to campus when the weather permits. They visit their children in Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore whenever possible. Kitty, the inspiration for Nina Bannister’s cat Furl, tolerates sharing her home with the Reeses.
One lucky winner will receive a Kindle copy of Frame Change by T’Gracie and Joe Reese. Enter using the Giveaway Tools widget below. Good luck everyone!
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