A New Prized Possession & The Title of My Next Book

Now I have another thing to run back inside for should my house ever go up in flames.

All the people under my blazing roof will get sorted out first, and the guinea pigs, too, with or without my help. I’m only half-heartless. So we’ll start after that.

This was the list of what felt irreplaceable before today:

– my wedding album

– my double-dragon pendant

-my sister-in-law’s quilt

my wolf’s head sculpture

-and Lovey (You can read about Lovey here, and yes, I very well might run into a burning building for him. Who’d risk being haunted by that?)

And I might grab my computer, too. All my stuff is properly backed up, but it’s such a pain in the ass to set up a new computer, it might be worth a little smoke inhalation to be able to skip that.

Anyway. Now there’s something new.

See, the MacGuffin in my next book is a nearly four hundred year old painting—Landscape With Obelisk, by Govaert Flink.

Landscape with an Obelisk


That painting was part of the largest theft of personal property in the history of personal property.

On March 18th, 1990, as St. Patrick’s Day spilled over into National Hangover Day, two policemen rang the bell at the closed-for-the-night Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. They said they’d received a disturbance call. The security guard let the cops in and, spoiler alert, they weren’t actually cops.

The museum guards got themselves tied up and the robbers spent just under an hour and a half liberating thirteen pieces from their frames and cases, to the tune of over $500 million.

And the artwork hasn’t been seen since.

Now my book doesn’t deal with the famous heist, per se. It doesn’t speculate who might have done this, or suggest a fictional investigative path for this notorious crime. But it does a what-if on the idea that a viral video reveals a glimpse, in a suburban home, of one of the lost pieces.

Landscape With Obelisk, is—in some estimation—one of the lesser treasures taken that day. For more than three hundred and fifty years, it was assumed to be a minor work by the Master, Rembrandt van Rijn. It’s not. It’s an imitative effort by one of his students, Govaert Flinck, a fairly terrific portrait artist who never made it big.

Nobody really knows why the thieves took it. By 1990, the art world had known for years that it wasn’t a Rembrandt, and there were much more valuable pieces that were left untouched, although the faux policemen had free rein in the museum for quite a while that night. The theft of the Flinck remains one of a number of things we can only shrug about where the Gardner heist is concerned.

But it made me imagine a story. So I wrote it.

And then I had to title it.

I like coming up with titles for my work a little bit less than I like getting MRIs. I can take a Valium for the claustrophobia and deal with an MRI.

Valium doesn’t help with titling. I tried.

This poor book went through no fewer than sixty-eight title suggestions. (I think it’s probably more than that. I’m pretty sure I just deleted some of the lists in teary fugues over the months.)

Do I believe in Divine intervention? Define ‘divine’ the right way and I might. Of all things, and after more hair-tearing than I’ve ever done over a title, a quote by the Master himself, Rembrandt, surfaced:

“Try to put well in practice what you already know, and in so doing, you will in good time discover the hidden things you now inquire about.”

Et voilà! The book is called THE HIDDEN THINGS.

It fits beautifully. The title nods and winks at the secrets in the story, and the discovery of those secrets, but also at the personal arc of one of the main characters who discovers essentially a superpower unleashed at watching herself do something impressive in the video. And she sees it all from outside herself, the one vantage point that would normally be forever hidden from her.

But Rembrandt’s quote also eloquently captures something I truly believe about life: You’re never starting from zero. Whatever the universe lobs at you next, you’ve been preparing for it since your first screaming breath. It may not feel the match of what eludes you or surprises you. It may not feel like enough. But the facts and intuitions you’ve been taking on board since Day One have set you up for the next thing. You know how to learn.

So not only did this quote save me from having a book with a blank cover, it made me—for the first time in my entire life—want an inspirational wall hanging.

I had his words put on a plank for my office wall.



And now, a confession.

I was so geeky about it that this plank is cut to exactly the dimensions of Flinck’s Landscape With Obelisk—71cm x 54.5cm.

Worse than that, the incredibly patient and wonderful people at The Blue Spruce Decor Co. cut the wood into three sections, just like the dimensions of the three oak panels that make up the stacked backing under the ancient gesso that Landscape With Obelisk is painted on: 20cm on 20.5cm on 14cm.

I like to imagine his master’s words were always there, hidden under the painting, and I have them now, discovered, beside me while I work on whatever I can’t title next.

This thing pleases me—a lot. It’s one of a kind. So I guess I’ll have to run back in during a conflagration. I suppose that’s the price for ever getting to be this pleased.

(And seriously, if you have a quote or a lyric or a saying you love and might like to have close at hand for your own inspiration, Danielle at The Blue Spruce is wonderful. She works with you enthusiastically to get exactly what you’re looking for. I wholeheartedly recommend them. It’s a beautiful piece.)


Author: jamiemason

Wrote THE HIDDEN THINGS, MONDAY'S LIE, and also THREE GRAVES FULL (Simon & Schuster's Gallery Books.) Might write something else if I'm not careful.

2 thoughts on “A New Prized Possession & The Title of My Next Book”

  1. Jamie I love this, and can’t wait to read The Hidden Things. Another friend, Margaret Ronald wrote about the the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in a similar tangential way in Wild Hunt.

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