The Double Eagle FAQ
Where does the character of Tom Kirk come from?
When I was growing up and people asked me what I wanted to do, I would always oblige by telling them what they wanted to hear – a lawyer, or an accountant. The truth was, though, that from an early age I had harboured a secret ambition to become one of the world’s greatest art thieves – dancing around infra-red trip wires, abseiling down the sides of buildings, cracking open safes. So in a way this character, this incredibly successful art thief, has been living in my thoughts and fantasies ever since I was a child and has perhaps been at the root of my lifelong interest in art and antiques. The Double Eagle was the first chance I got to bring him properly to life.
Where did you get the idea for the story of the Double Eagle.
Incredibly it was from an article about the auction of the Double Eagle that I had read on the BBC website in July 2002. I was so struck by its unique story that I saved it onto my computer and began to think about how I could work it into a novel. The key though, was creating the characters. Once I had clear pictures of Tom, Jennifer, Archie, van Simson and Renwick in my mind, the story unravelled itself.
Are the story or characters inspired by other books or films?
My two favourite Bond films are Goldfinger and From Russia with Love, so these, I have to admit, did influence my choice of Fort Knox and Istanbul as locations. It’s difficult to write about an art thief and not think about Thomas Crown – the name Tom Kirk is a nod towards this. Jennifer Browne’s name, too, is a reference to the movie Jackie Brown and the strong, sassy African American female character that I saw Jennifer as being, although there is something of the Clarice Starling in her too. In fact, I deliberately based the scene where Jennifer meets museum director Miles Baxter on the one where Clarice first meets Dr Chilton by way of a small tribute to Thomas Harris who I think is a fantastic writer.
Are the historical facts alluded to in the book actually true.
Absolutely. From the outset what I wanted to do was take a real historical event and then weave a modern day thriller around it. I think that this both helps give the book a certain historical veracity and also provides an interesting backdrop that the reader can learn about and engage with. (You can find further details on the fascinating historical background to the Double Eagle by clicking here.)
Can I see a Double Eagle for myself?
As the book suggests, two are permanently on display in the Money and Medals Hall of the National Numismatic Collection which is housed on the third floor of the National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The actual ‘Farouk’ Double Eagle, the coin which sold at auction for almost $8 million, has recently gone on display at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York, a short distance from Ground Zero.
Have you been to all the places mentioned in the book?
Those that I am allowed into yes! The only place that I have not been to is Fort Knox. Although you can visit the military base and see the Depository from the outside, the Treasury maintains a strict “No Visitors” policy that it has had in place since the facility first opened in 1936.
Do the artworks referred to in the book really exist?
The Winter Egg and the Pansy Egg are real, as is the price tag placed on the Winter Egg when Christie’s sold it in April 2002 for $9.6 million, a world record. Other pieces mentioned include the sword gifted to Admiral Lord Nelson by Sultan Selim III after the Battle of the Nile in 1798 which sold at Sotheby’s in October 2002 for í£350,000. Two famous paintings that are mentioned are The Concert by Jan Vermeer and Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt. Both works were part of the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum job, probably the world’s largest ever art heist when 12 paintings valued at over $100 million were stolen. It remains unsolved and all the paintings are still missing. (For further information about the art mentioned in the Double Eagle click here).
How long did it take you to write the book?
I started researching and planning it in late 2002 and actually first put pen to paper in January 2003. The first draft only took me six weeks, but was awful! I then spent six painful months re-writing it again and again. It was only in August that I had a version that I felt was good enough to go out to Agents who then insisted on yet another re-draft. I realised afterwards that I made the typical mistake of the first time novelist in not investing enough time up front because I was too eager to actually get writing. Not a mistake I intend to make again.