Saturday, September 12, 2020

Book Review: A Trace of Deceit by Karen Odden

A Trace of Deceit
Author: Karen Odden
Series: Victorian Mystery Series (Book 2)
Publication: William Morrow Paperbacks (December 17, 2019)

Description: A young painter digs beneath the veneer of Victorian London’s art world to learn the truth behind her brother’s murder...

Edwin is dead. That’s what Inspector Matthew Hallam of Scotland Yard tells Annabel Rowe when she discovers him searching her brother’s flat for clues. While the news is shocking, Annabel can’t say it’s wholly unexpected, given Edwin’s past as a dissolute risk-taker and art forger, although he swore he’d reformed. After years spent blaming his reckless behavior for their parents’ deaths, Annabel is now faced with the question of who murdered him—because Edwin’s death was both violent and deliberate. A valuable French painting he’d been restoring for an auction house is missing from his studio: find the painting, find the murderer. But the owner of the artwork claims it was destroyed in a warehouse fire years ago.

As a painter at the prestigious Slade School of Art and as Edwin’s closest relative, Annabel makes the case that she is crucial to Matthew’s investigation. But in their search for the painting, Matthew and Annabel trace a path of deceit and viciousness that reaches far beyond the elegant rooms of the auction house, into an underworld of politics, corruption, and secrets someone will kill to keep. 

My Thoughts: This entertaining historical mystery begins with a young art student named Annabel Rowe walking in to her brother's flat to find the police searching it. Her brother has been murdered.

Annabel had a difficult relationship with her brother which began in childhood. Her mother adored Edwin and was his constant support while her father was a much harder taskmaster who demanded Edwin live up to his impossibly high standards and used Annabel as an example to goad his son.

Though they had been close as children, things changed when his father decided to send Edwin away to a boarding school that focused on developing his artistic talent which was great. However, Edwin hated the school and ran away from it ending up living with a school friend and his mother.

Edwin used his artistic talent to clean paintings and to copy them not realizing that he was being used to forge and defraud. He also used drugs and often disappeared. He was caught for the forgery and spent a year in prison which changed his life for the better. He got out determined to put his troubled past behind him but Annabel wasn't quite ready to trust and forgive him. She blamed him for bringing home the illness that killed her parents.

However, she is determined to find out who murdered her brother and is even more determined when she learns that a valuable painting he was cleaning had disappeared. What is most strange is that the painting had been believed lost in a fire in a storage facility that acted as a warehouse for many collectors surplus art.

Annabel convinces Inspector Matthew Hallam that she is necessary to his investigation into her brother's death since she has an in-depth knowledge of the art world which he does not and since it looks like the theft of the painting was key to her brother's death. I liked the way Matthew and Annabel become close as they pursue their investigation. She quickly comes to see all of his various virtues and strengths. She also comes to realize how little she knew her brother and how much she regretted not forgiving him for his faults.

The setting and time period were intriguing. The many characters were distinct and distinctive. This was a thoroughly enjoyable mystery.

Favorite Quote:
And in that moment, I began to trace some of the deepest curves of Matthew's character -- his willingness to observe before judging, his ability to step inside the minds of others, and his desire to shore up the hearts in those who needed it most.
I was gifted with this one by the author. You can buy your copy here.

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