“Green Canvas” by Andrew Nance

Andrew Nance is a fine writer with a keen eye for plot twists and for creating rising tensions. He excels at writing suspenseful, complex, and intriguing mysteries as he’s demonstrated before with All the Lovely Children and Red Canvas. With his newest book, Green Canvas (Red Adept Publishing 2024), he proves he’s yet at the top of his game. Nance once more returns to the Northeast coast of Florida with Lise Norwood, a private detective with a keen knowledge of art. As he did in Red Canvas, Nance creates a vivid world of lush beauty, lurking dangers, complicated characters, entwined plot lines, fast-paced actions, and just the right balance of social commentary.

Detective stories, of course, are plentiful, and it’s hard to carve a new niche with something fresh in such a crowded field. Yet, Nance does so by spinning a classic—Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist—into a modern urban setting, the fictional town of San Marco, which bears a remarkable resemblance to St. Augustine. Moreover, his detective, Lise, is a fresh new kind of investigator. While the female detective as protagonist is not new—thank you Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky among many others—Nance expands the concept and adds a fresh coat of paint by making Lise an art expert. It’s this expertise that pulls her into two seemingly distinct crimes—a murder and a kidnapping.

The Fagin character from Oliver Twist is recast as an Iraq war veteran with psychic wounds, leftover war-time skills, and a compassionate heart, especially for throw-away kids. The Oliver Twist character is a small Black girl who renames herself Olivia. She is a runaway who has been sleeping behind a movie theater and eating leftover popcorn from the dumpster. When rain forces her to move, she finds herself threatened by a smelly man, but then is rescued suddenly by Mr. Teacher. He takes her to an abandoned ramshackle brick building called Thieves Kitchen, where she meets other runaway kids. Soon she makes friends with Mackie, a boy with a speech impediment. It isn’t long before she discovers Mr. Teacher and his runaways survive by stealing, although they are decidedly non-violent and tend toward petty theft. However, a miscalculation flings them all into a deadly chase when they take something decidedly not petty.

Even as Nance invites us into the strange and dangerous world of these runaways, readers are introduced—or reintroduced if they read Red Canvas—to Lise Norward, who has been retained to find a lost Florida painting. Her quest for this valuable work of art will lead her to a construction worker and his wife. They embroil Lise in a high-stakes kidnapping.

When police find young Mackie killed from falling into the path of a train, it’s unclear if he was pushed, jumped intentionally, or fell accidentally. Lise reluctantly is pulled into the police investigation, working once more with grumpy Detective Baker. Their resentful yet respectful working relationship adds an interesting twist to the developing conflicts.

Lise and Baker need to solve the mystery of the death of Machie, while Lise needs to find the missing painting, plus rescue the kidnapped victim. There’s a missing briefcase with a million dollars too, just in case things get too easy for Lise. Nance proves to be an expert at bringing these divergent plot lines into a cohesive and high-tension climax.

All the characters are well drawn and intriguing, but perhaps Mr. Teacher, the modern-day Fagin, is the most fascinating. On the one hand, he is rescuing kids who have nowhere to go and are in danger from living on the streets. But on the other hand, he teaches them to steal for a living. That he cares for them is obvious, which sets him above Dickens’ Fagin. His emotional scars and unrelieved guilt from events he suffered through as a soldier in Iraq complicate his life. Further, his relationship with another emotionally wounded veteran, Elliot, adds poignancy and social significance. Mr. Teacher might be a thief and Elliot might be homeless, but both are sympathetic and essential characters.

While this is far from a love story, there is a secondary plot involving Lise and her long-time beau Nick. An attractive, wealthy businessman shows an interest in Lise and might be a challenge to Nick. The businessman not only brings a romantic quandary into Lise’s life, but he also brings danger none of them see coming until it might well be  too late.

Green Canvas is a welcome addition to the growing list of Andrew Nance’s books, and an action-packed impressive follow-up to Red Canvas. Readers will no doubt urge Nance to hurry up and write the next book in the series. Creative, crisply written, intriguing, with a page-turning, edge-of-your-seat pacing, Green Canvas is a well-done classic detective story with more than a touch of a police-procedural. It’s a grand read.

Andrew Nance

Andrew Nance is an award-winning author of young adult books, including Daemon Hall (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), which was named an American Library Association Quick Pick for the Reluctant Reader, a New York Library Book for the Teen Age, and nominated for an Edgar Award in YA and an ALA Teens Top 10 for 2008.  In addition to writing, Nance is an actor and amateur historian. He spent over twenty years working in the radio industry and still volunteers at a St. Augustine college radio station. He lives in St. Augustine with his family.

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