Author Kendall Svengalis has crafted a mystery based upon his Gary high school titled "The Great Emerson Art Heist."
Svengalis, whose family moved to Gary in 1908, starts his story in 1942 with an unexpected meeting aboard the 20th Century Limited as it travels from New York and Chicago. The meeting is between Ellen Anderson, a detective of Swedish descent, and Natalia Boroskova, a Russian refuge whose parents were murdered during Stalin’s Great Purge. Anderson and Boroskova’s ultimate destination is Gary, where Anderson’s father has an ammunition contract in the city and Boroskova’s Uncle Stanislaus, a veteran of the Russian White Army, now works in the steel mills.
Almost immediately upon their arrival, both women are caught up in intrigue. Enrolling at Emerson High School, Anderson, who has a Nancy Drew-like propensity for solving mysteries, becomes embroiled in the theft of the school’s valuable art collection. At the same time, Boroskova is being pursued by Soviet agents who are convinced she has documents belonging to her late father that reveal the location of Russian spies around the globe.
“At one time, Emerson had a total of 125 works of art,” said Svengalis, who attended school there. “Those included 50 original oil paintings by such artists as T.C. Steele and Frank Dudley.”
Both famous Indiana landscape artists, Dudley had a studio in what is now the Indiana Dunes State Park and specialized in paintings of duneland. Steele, who settled in Brown County, Indiana, also spent time painting the area.
Svengalis, author of "Gary, Indiana: A Centennial Celebration," is a big admirer of William Wirt, the great educator whose work for Gary schools set a nation model. When attending Purdue University, he wrote his master thesis on Wirt. It’s this deep love of Gary that inspired Svengalis to set his second mystery story in his hometown.
“My goal with this book was to recreate Gary in its heyday,” said Svengalis, who now lives in Connecticut and recently retired as the Rhode Island State Law librarian and adjunct professor at the University of Rhode Island’s School of Library and Information Studies.
“When they were taking everything out of the school, we got to go in and take photos.”
Svengalis said his book is the most extensive vocabulary-building novel in print, with 2,143 SAT words woven into his action-packed narrative.
"The Great Emerson Art Heist" (Duneland Press 2016, $19.95) is available online. Call 203-689-5630 or visit dunelandpress.com.