Writer’s Roost Home Page

Last update: 26 August 2014

Welcome to Steven Houchin’s writing website. He is the author of novels, short stories, non-fiction articles, technical papers, and also performs editing services for other writers. He was honored when his second novel won the Pacific Northwest Writers Association’s 2007 Literary Contest in the Mystery/Thriller category. Also, he served as a judge in PNWA’s annual literary contest for both 2009 and 2010 in their Sci-Fi/Fantasy category.

Please check out his Writer’s Roost BLOG. It contains book reviews, announcements, and articles on the writing craft. Please post your comments on any of the articles. Also, take a look at our list of upcoming Literary Conferences and Contests.

By the way, if you think you are related to Steven, check out his family genealogy website.

News items:

** Steven’s article “A Journey Through Time” appears in the October 2011 issue of Northwest Prime Time magazine. It tells the story of a letter he wrote while in kindergarten that returned to him 49 years later, unopened.

** Steven gave an interview about his writing experience to local Seattle author Norma Nill, which you can read on her blog.

** Steven served as guest blogger at the Literary Liasons site with a posting titled “So, You Want to Win a Literary Contest?” In it, he explains some of the factors that will help your manuscript break through the clutter of contest entries to maximize the chance of winning.

** Steven’s non-fiction article “McGraw Square” was published in the Summer 2009 issue of Columbia Magazine, a publication of the Washington State Historical Society. It details the history of a statue in downtown Seattle that honors John McGraw, who served in the 1880s and 1890s as King County Sheriff and Washington’s second governor.

Book Review: The Rescue Artist

The subtitle of this nonfiction book (“A true story of art, thieves, and the hunt for a missing masterpiece”) doesn’t do justice to the rollicking, outrageous story that author Edward Dolnick tells inside its covers.

The story begins on the day of the opening of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway. Two men prop a ladder up against a first floor window of Norway’s National Gallery, bash in the window, and make off with an iconic painting: The Scream by Edvard Munch. The painting hangs only yards from the window, which contains ordinary glass that is easily shattered. The guard, snug in his basement bunker, assumes it is a false alarm he’s hearing. The theft is a national embarrassment for Norway, coinciding as it does with the Olympics. The police are stumped.

After that introduction, the book focuses on a man named Charley Hill, who is a detective with New Scotland Yard’s Art Squad. Charley’s specialty is undercover work, where he usually poses as a brash American looking to buy stolen art. He spends much of his time cultivating seedy underworld figures, aiming to gain their trust so they’ll confide in him any knowledge of where such stolen items may be. The author tells several hilarious and amazing stories about Charley’s exploits recovering various other stolen paintings, and the outrageous characters he assumes along the way.

Interspersed with Charley’s story are chapters about art theft in general. Some explain how thieves incorrectly assume there is an easy, ready market for the booty. They dream of finding a greedy, wealthy art lover who keeps a secret gallery hidden in the basement, filled with stolen items which will never again see the light of day. However, such shady buyers are mostly mythical, and thieves often find themselves stuck with a Rembrandt or Vermeer that merely collects dust, or which they trade to some other lowlife for drugs or to pay an old debt. Such was the case when the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911. An Italian carpenter, who had previously worked at the Louvre, hid in a closet overnight, donned museum work clothes, and walked out with the painting tucked under his work smock. A couple of years later, he was arrested in Florence when he clumsily tried to sell the painting to an art dealer. Other chapters focus on how little security accompanies priceless paintings where they hang, especially the vulnerability of old English estates that are miles from any police and are filled with works by the masters.

Little by little, the author reels out how Charley Hill and the Art Squad became interested in the theft of The Scream, how they wriggled into the investigation, and the scheme they cooked up for Charley’s undercover persona who would find and trap the thieves.

The Rescue Artist reads like a comical crime novel when relaying Charley’s exploits or detailing other thefts and their determined or bumbling perpetrators. The factual chapters about the business of art theft are a fascinating glimpse into a world most of us never consider. This book is a quick read that riveted me and provided more than a few laughs along the way.

Steven Houchin -- 20 July 2013

To see previous essays and musing about writing, please visit my Web Log.