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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovocic

Title: The Portrait of Molly Dean
Author: Katherine Kovocic
Publisher: 1 March 2018 by Bonnier Publishing Australia
Pages: 288 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, mystery, crime
My Rating: 4.5 crowns

An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years...
In 1999, art dealer Alex Clayton stumbles across a lost portrait of Molly Dean, an artist's muse brutally slain in Melbourne in 1930. Alex buys the painting and sets out to uncover more details, but finds there are strange inconsistencies: Molly's mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter's violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, and vital records are missing. Alex enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that swirl around the last days of Molly Dean.
My Thoughts

‘My interest in Molly Dean’s portrait may have started as a way to bump up the value, but this is more of a story than I ever expected.’

For a debut novel, this was really engaging and highly commendable. A dual time narrative with an intense and absorbing mystery, revolving around factual events from Australia in the early 1930s. Molly Dean, an aspiring writer but working as a school teacher, was brutally murdered in a Melbourne laneway and her case remains unsolved to this day. There were suspects and a trial even organised but it all amounted to nothing.

What Katherine (author) has done here is indeed very clever. In one timeline, she has reimagined events leading up to the death of Molly and in the 1999 timeline has a fictional Art dealer, Alex, uncovering the portrait of Molly and researching the background behind the artwork. Alex’s initial intention was to just increase the painting’s value by restoring the work and providing provenance with the background story. Except Alex became involved in the history surrounding the portrait. So on the one hand you have Molly wonderfully detailing life in Melbourne of the 1930s (loved reading about my home city - from tram rides to Luna Park) and living a bohemian lifestyle with Colin Colahan (actual painter) - then Alex in 1999 providing a fascinating insight into art auctions, restorations and the like.

Sounds intriguing - and it is! Katherine has done a marvellous job of both timelines. Her art knowledge in terms of history and conservation is clearly evident and most enlightening. The range of characters (both real and fictional) are well formed -from the 1930s and Molly’s mother and Adam Graham brought to life, to the 1990s fictional Alex with the highly amusing inclusion of her friend John and ever faithful Hogarth (dog). The banter between Alex and John is fun, which serves to highlight how the author brings light and shade to the intriguing novel.

If you like a good mystery then the unique appeal of this one is the central plot based around factual events. I love historical fiction and the gripping mystery around poor Molly Dean, her life goals and eventual murder is fascinating. I appreciated the ‘Author’s Notes’ at the end detailing what was fact and what was fiction. A very engaging read that I highly recommend.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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