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Mystery writer coming to Ogdensburg Tuesday


It is a murder mystery set in an anthropological museum.

Museum sleuth Berry Cates discovers that museum staffers are casting illicit bronzes. Blackmail, fraud and accusations are rife.

Read all about it in “Insinuendo: Murder in the Museum.”

Better yet, meet the author, Miriam Clavir of Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday at Ogdensburg Public Library, 312 Washington St., from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

A lifelong museum enthusiast and fully trained art and artifacts conservator with a doctorate in museum studies, she wrote the award-winning “Preserving What Is Valued: Museums, Conservation and First Nations” in 2002 for the University of British Columbia Press. With those kind of credentials, the move from scholar to mystery writer would be a seamless one, right?

Well, not exactly.

“There were bumps,” Ms. Clavir said. “The biggest one was that while I had written many articles on preservation for the public and for my museum conservation colleagues, I’d never seriously sat down to write fiction. My challenge here was to weave real-life museum experience into an intriguing story, to blend the real with the imaginary.”

Museums, she said, are rather mysterious places to begin with.

“Yes, museum rooms contain things that lived once, whether in people’s lives or in nature,” Ms. Clavir said. “In some cases they are still alive. Either way, they always have or have had significance even if the museum or the visitor doesn’t know exactly what it is or was. And we hardly ever know the whole story behind what we’re seeing. To me, museums are also like eye-opening travel, except you are going backwards and forwards in time as well as everywhere around the world. So you are always seeing things you never imagined. There are many questions and hidden secrets, even when we are allowed to know some of the details.”

“Insinuendo,” she hopes, will cater to scholarly and literary tastes.

“In the novel I wanted to give readers a true behind-the-scenes visit to a museum as well as a fictional murder mystery,” Ms. Clavir said. “So, for example, the setting is entirely real as is the conservation information, but all the characters are fictional. You can go and see in the UBC Museum of Anthropology’s collection some of the artifacts that are mentioned in the book like the gun with Haida designs carved on the stock and the Inuit rock band, but murder and forgery never took place there. I am certainly very grateful to MOA for allowing me to use it as a site for murder and mayhem.”

And Berry Cates will be back.

“There is a second book right now waiting for publication, ‘Fate Accompli: The Golden Dog Murders,’” Ms. Clavir said. “Berry has moved to Quebec City to be closer to her friend Daniel, and is working as the artifacts conservator on an archaeological excavation. But instead of artifacts, she discovers a corpse recently buried on the site.”

The Corning Museum of Glass allowed Ms. Lavir to use an image of one of its artifacts on the book’s cover. The piece is Roman, 2,000 years old and in reality is just around an inch high.

“As a conservator I have learned how pieces like this were made and I’ll explain this at the reading,” she said. “But perhaps it’s an example of one of the museum mysteries I mentioned. How can something this fine and detailed and an inch high have been created 2,000 years ago? Could we even be able to do it today?”

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