The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery by Jennifer S. Alderson (Amazon)
Description: When a Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.
After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Historical Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later. When two women claim the same painting, the portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it.
Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.
Why I Picked This Book: I may have done a binge on both Raiders of the Lost Art AND Nazi Hunters on Netflix and this neatly encapsulates both. I love art theft mysteries and am fascinated by reclaiming or recovering treasures that were stolen by the Nazis.
My Impression: I can't even begin to describe how much I love this topic. The research and the history were absolutely fascinating and I loved following Zelda around as she dug into the past. There was tragedy and hope and lots and lots of research. Zelda is an interesting character. She's fairly new to the museum work so everything is new to her and she's more emotionally involved than she may have been if she was experienced in this type of work. Her emotional connection made it easier to connect with her than if this had been just business.
The beginning was a little on the slow side but while it took a few chapters to fully hook me it wasn't a tedious or boring read even at the beginning. Once the first woman submits her claim the book really gets going and I was fully invested in seeing how everything worked out. As the reader, we have a little more information than Zelda does which made me even more invested in the outcome.
The outcome was intriguing, fascinating, tragic, but healing all at the same time. I really enjoyed getting to know Zelda and getting to the bottom of just what had happened to the art collection and who the rightful owner was.
I did have a few issues with this book but they were minor. I didn't enjoy the parts about Zelda's personal life nearly as much as what was going on with the investigation. Even when she was discussing the case with her friend I wanted her to get back to her research! I also was very annoyed with the curator, Huub. His rudeness crossed the line of unprofessional and frequently came off as just plain mean. While he does have a personal connection with stolen art I didn't feel like it excused his behavior.
Despite my issues I really enjoyed this book. It was a very interesting art mystery with lots of history and emotion but never became dry or overwrought. As well, it has me wanting to do a nonfiction deep dive into art theft which is a pretty good sign of how much I enjoyed book!
Would I Read More of this Series/Author? I would! I really enjoyed the subject and I think the character has a lot of potential. I'm curious to see where the series goes.
Would I Recommend this Book? If you enjoy mysteries with a strong historical angle this is a solid read. While this is technically the 2nd in the series this is the 1st where Zelda is working in Amsterdam so you'd have no trouble jumping in here.