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Book DetailsISBN: 9781760409784
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Book Review: Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovacic - Reviewed by CloggieA (11 Feb 2018)
4.5 stars “The painting is filthy and the varnish has discoloured to a nasty yellow, which is probably part of the reason Lane & Co. has failed to recognise the artist. But I can see the jewel tones beneath the dirt, and as I gaze at the lovely young woman with her short dark bob and mischievous brown eyes, I know I am staring into the face of Molly Dean.”
The Portrait of Molly Dean is the first novel by Australian veterinarian, art historian and author, Katherine Kovacic. When art dealer Alex Clayton manages to buy, at the bargain price of $3000, a heretofore unknown portrait of Molly Dean by Colin Colahan, her plan is to clean it up, find it some provenance, add some interest with a backstory, then move it on for a sizeable profit.
Provenance proves impossible, but the backstory will do: Molly Dean was murdered is a Melbourne back lane in November 1930. But as she checks the facts and does some research, Alex becomes intrigued by the circumstances of Molly’s death. Missing documents are a puzzle. And it seems someone rather badly wants to have the portrait. Or do they just want Alex not to have it? What secrets might it hold?
The novel is split into two time periods, with the 1999 first-person narrative giving Alex’s point of view, while the 1930 third-person is from Molly’s perspective. Basing her tale on real-life events, Kovacic sticks fairly closely to the known facts about Molly Dean’s death, but she fills out the main historical characters, giving them life. She gives the reader a plausible version of the events preceding Molly’s death, and throws her present-day characters into a fascinating adventure.
Kovacic’s knowledge of art history and conservation is apparent in every chapter: she manages to subtly include in the story a wealth of art-related information without ever boring the reader. Her characters are well rendered: Molly, determined to better her situation; Alex, intrigued by the unsolved murder; John, providing support and a sounding board for Alex. The banter between the latter two is delightful. These two, and Hogarth, are characters of whom readers would enjoy seeing more. An impressive debut.
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