The Sirens of Suspense

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Born in Algeria in 1963, Anne-Laure Thiéblemont grew up in Madagascar, Lyon, Paris, and Bogota. This childhood spent on the move left her with a taste for travel. That and her studies in art history were the two influences would shape her career. She worked as a freelance reporter for major French newspapers and magazines, specialising in art and gem trafficking. Afterwards, she spent thirteen years as a magazine editor-in-chief. She lives in Marseille, France, and since 2014 has been working on her own design and applied arts magazine. Writing is her passion, her own secret garden. The Collector is her first mystery, and was inspired from her investigative reporting into art trafficking and meetings she had with famous art collectors. It’s a detective story in which the heroine’s personal story is woven into a hunt through the very secret world of Paris art galleries and auction houses. When Anne-Laure is not writing, she is out searching for gems and designing jewelry that she has made in Istanbul. 


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An art reporter and trained gem specialist, Anne-Laure Thiéblemont is known for her investigations into stolen art and gem trafficking. Her Paris art world mystery novel, The Collector, just came out in English, published by Le French Book. She currently splits her time between Paris and Marseille.


You were born in Algeria but lived in Madagascar, France and Colombia - did your experience in different cultures contribute to your love of art? Where have you not traveled that you would like to?

I studied about gems and afterwards went to Madagascar, where I traveled from mine to mine. One day, we took a bus into the middle of nowhere, to a village, where we slept on the dirt floor of a hut, and the next morning at dawn, I sat in a field. A long line of women stood in front of me waiting to show me emeralds they held in their hands. I could never get that image out of my head. I wanted to broker gems to experience similar scenes, but I wrote a book instead.


Your books deal with recovering stolen art, which you investigated in real life as well. What goes into these investigations, both in reality and as research for your books? How do you choose what pieces to focus upon?

I always start with an image or a story that struck me in some powerful way. Then I ask myself if I’m going to be able to live with that story for a year or two—the time it takes to write a book.

My grandmother was a painter and my mother an antique dealer. Following in their footsteps, I studied art history. When I was a kid, when my parents were not doing archeological digs, we went to museums. It was their passion. Later, I got a job working for a Parisian antiques dealer. He specialized in selling off inherited collections. I saw him slice open mattresses, rip up armchairs and overturn armoires to find hidden cash. That’s all he was interested in, not the magnificent antique furniture. I also met people who were obsessed by owning objects, people who accumulated works of all kinds, and others who would burn books and lithographs so that they would be the only one to hold a one-of-a-kind artwork. I listened to stories from auctioneers, antique dealers, and gallery owners. They all had anecdotes about a treasure hunt, or a stolen object that reappeared, or fraud, or fences tossing masterpieces in the garbage so as not to be caught by the cops.


What’s the craziest art or gem theft, in your opinion?

Perhaps not the craziest theft, but the story of a collector and The Collector. Once I was doing a story at a manor in Basque country. The owner worked in the textile industry, and had a basement full of Impressionist paintings. I didn’t see a single one of them. They were all encased in wooden boxes, lined up on rails. It was a mausoleum. This was the starting point for The Collector.


You are jewelry designer as well. Tell us a about your work and your inspiration for the designs.

I make jewelry like I write. I work as if I were painting a painting. I build a framework, and then I move on to another frame, and then another. For my first books, each chapter was a painting that I had to link to the others. I would link them and construct the story in that way. It wasn’t the writing that counted as much as the building. With jewelry, I function in much the same way and you build around colors. It’s how the stones interact with each other. I could never make jewelry with just one stone. I need quantities of them, to create a perspective and then a relationship among them.


THE COLLECTOR deals with pre-Columbian statutes, is this your particular area of interest? If not, what is?

It’s not so much that I’m interested in art, I’m curious about it. I’m curious about how a piece of artwork captivates people and the impact that possessing a piece of artwork has on people. In fact, I’m interested in human faults, seen through the prism of art, which always leads to incredible stories.


Can you tell us a little about THE COLLECTOR and what’s coming next (in the US) for you.

The Collector is a first attempt for me to capture a few topics that fascinate me: transgression, the forbidden, illusions, and lies.




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Book she wishes shecould read again for the first time: ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durrell, which is a book with mirror effects that impressed me and stays with me.Writing ambience: Coffeeshop, with earbuds playing Silver Sun Pickups.

What she's reading now: THE DISCREET HERO by Mario Vargas Llosa, which has a lot of humor. His heroes have a distance and quality I appreciate. They seem so out of place in the world around them, which is more of a fairy tale, but they are real stories.

Period in history she'd most like to visit: I appreciate my own time period and would not want to live in another. Everything is possible today. I wouldn't want to land in some totally different time period, be it two centuries in the future or the Middle Ages.

One thing she wishes she had known when she started writing: That imagination is not at all palpable, it is virtual. I didn't know if I was going to be able to master it enough to play with its different facets.

If she could meet one of her characters: Once I have told the story of my characters, I don't want to meet them anymore. Having some distance from those you love is not such a bad thing..