What do you do after you leave your management job at Sotheby’s after 22 years? Write a murder mystery romp charting the saucy goings on at a London auction house, of course.
Clive Graham Lord did just this after he left his job as chief operating officer of Sotheby’s three years ago, just before the pandemic. He started writing his autobiography in the first 2020 lockdown but felt “it was not creative, merely descriptive”, so he decided to include some of his own experiences in a fictional story based around an auction house.
The result is his first novel, Murder Makes the World Go Round, based around the entirely fictional Mount’s—and there’s a fair bit of mounting involved. For instance, one of Mount’s specialists, Riccardo, pursues regular extra-curricular activities with his colleagues, as in this scene: “Topless, Cezary led Riccardo to the bed, and they fell onto it in unison. Intertwined, side by side they fumbled to undo each other’s trousers and remove their shoes, until they were just in their Armani socks and underwear. Riccardo had given Cezary some of his socks and underwear to wear when they met. It turned them both on.”
Meanwhile, one of the main characters is Anita Wu, a senior police officer who “was caught in a porn movie set up by the Chinese” (she is apparently identified by “the tattoos on the buttocks … One, a red rose for England and the other, a yellow chrysanthemum for China”) which scuppered her imminent promotion to head of the UK’s anti-terrorism unit.
Accused of “gross misconduct” with little option but to leave the force “in disgrace with no payoff and no pension”, Wu is told she will never work again. However, the Home Secretary does give her another option—she can stay in the force as head of the Art Squad.But of course! In her new role, Wu sets off around the world investigating a trail of murders of Mount’s wealthy clients.
But how much of this is based on Lord’s own experience at Sotheby’s? “I absorbed a lot of knowledge about the art market and how auctions work but there is nothing in the book that is specific to Sotheby's,” Lord insists. “I would never betray any confidences or write about real people, clients or colleagues. This book is not an exposé of Sotheby’s but some light entertainment set in the art world for people to enjoy. The premise of murdering clients is of course ridiculous, but I have taken the desire to win business to the extreme.”
Nonetheless, he adds, the writing process has been enlightening: “I used Botox as a killing method as a play on vanity and learnt a lot of about how to kill people from research!”
As witnessed in the Cezary scene, Riccardo and several of his colleagues (including “Woody” the head of HR, who takes a particularly personal approach to personnel) have very, shall we say, “close” working relationships. But does that much rumpy pumpy go on in the art world? “I am certain that there is as much bed hopping in the art world as any other,” Lord says. “As for ‘accidental’ deaths, that would be for the police to look into, or maybe the Art Squad!”
Lord is now working on his second book, The Biggest Auction and the Largest Theft of All Time, “which is still centred around Mount’s auction house and the art market but is a thriller, not a murder mystery”, he says.
Murder Makes the World Go Round is out now, published by Austin Macauley.