I requested The Portrait of Molly Dean via NetGalley (which, full disclosure, was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review). With an art and mystery angle, I knew it was one that would be good research for the heist book I’m currently working on.
To start, Ms. Kovacic does an impressive job of pulling the audience straight into the world of these characters. We quickly are immersed in not only the buying and selling of art, but more specifically, art in Melbourne, Australia. In addition, a few chapters in, we get some insight to Melbourne in the 1930s. With two simultaneous timelines, it’s easy to follow the actions (even if we know one character is moving closer to her – not spoiler alert – death). Our protagonist, Alex, is a no-nonsense woman who deals in art and, in her research and due diligence for a recently purchased. stumbles onto a bit of a mystery with one Molly Dean, the subject of a painting. In a well integrated 1930s timeline, we walk the last footsteps of Molly Dean. Overall, the story is interesting and very well researched, with lots of wonderful details that truly create reveal the unique voice of the author.
Unfortunately, and only because it’s one of the biggest problems in my own writing, is that nearly all the characters sound the same. Furthermore, we spend an inordinate amount of time with Alex. Maybe it’s because I’m more used to reading books with more ensemble types casts, but in Portrait, we’re pretty much with Alex 70% of the time. If she had a little more personality, that would be great, but in my mind, she ends up much as an audience insert — some readers might be happy with that, but I found the device a bit boring. With the problem of everyone using the same ‘voice,’ the discussions of whodunit become almost like Alex speaking to herself (or us). Anyway, I didn’t mind too much and continued reading.
Overall, my biggest problems with the book are the cover and price. For all the research Ms. Kovacic did (and really, it is a staggering amount), the cover, which I assume to be the title, looks NOTHING like what was described in the book. I think the publisher missed a huge opportunity here, and am quite shocked it was approved. I realize we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but really… Additionally, $9.99 seems high for a debut author. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely novel, however, I think the price point seems quite high for a book that I finished in three sessions. My final issue is a bit nit picky, but the book is HEAVILY focused on Melbourne, to the point that it’s almost alienating if you’ve never been. Even having visited last summer, I still thought the heavy handed references were a bit much. Although the artist and portrait are (surprise) Australian, I think the author would have done better to make this somehow a more universal book, by perhaps choosing a different artist/subject.
Would I read another book featuring Alex? I suppose so, but I would feel comfortable checking the book out from the library or paying under $5.
Have you read this book yet? Will you check it out?