This is a gripping novel based on a true story, astonishing for a debut work. It will appeal to fans of crime and historical fiction as well as art lovers.
It is set in Melbourne both in the recent past ( 1999 ) and in the 1930 ‘s. The plot is basically as follows – 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 incongruencies : Molly’s harsh mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter’s violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, ( all charges were dropped – why? ) and vital records were missing.
Molly’s usual mantra of buy it, fix it up and sell it off is put on hold because she is drawn to the painting. Alex (who has a huge dog named Hogarth ) enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that surge around the mystery of Molly’s last days.
Meanwhile we see how in back in 1930, Molly Dean as created and imagined by Kovocic is feisty and independent and readers can easily relate to her. There is a feminist aspect as well as Molly is a teacher trapped in a dull world , bound by society’s expectations – she no longer really enjoys teaching – and secretly she is an aspiring author. Molly thinks she can’t really become a true writer until she breaks away from the Education Department .She has a couple of articles and /or other work submitted , some accepted, and like any good investigative journalist she has an eye for a story and has unwittingly discovered a menacing scoop … that could cost her her life.
Molly lives with her manipulative and sometimes violent mother, but spends much of her time in the company of Melbourne’s artists and intellectuals. Molly is romantically involved with the painter Colin Colahan. Colin is painting Molly’s portrait and during one of the final sittings, Molly reveals her plan to him of abandoning teaching and devoting herself to writing.
Molly has no idea that in entering the ‘enlightened’ artistic circles on 1930s Melbourne, looking for a big story, she is putting her life in danger.
The two intersecting storylines are clearly told and inspired by a true crime. When Alex meets Daphne, the daughter of the lead detective in the case in 1930, the quest for answers turns personal .
The story is told from both Alex’s and Molly’s point of view. Brilliantly, vibrantly written , with a great ear for dialogue and a marvellous eye for description, Kovacic gracefully interweaves the narrative of Molly’s 1930s life with Alex’s modern day murder-mystery investigation into the developing young journalist’s unsolved , vicious death.
The atmosphere of Melbourne in 1930 is marvellously evoked, the underworld with menacing crooks and corrupt police vividly brought to life, and there are plenty of references for those in the know to the Australian art world. The world of art conservation and auctions is also gracefully conjured. The book is very well paced and at the end of the book Kovocic includes an author’s note that details what parts and characters are real and which are fictional.
What really happened to Mary “Molly” Dean? Who murdered her and why was it hushed up ? This book is based on a true story which is still unsolved.
About the author :
Katherine Kovacic was a veterinarian but preferred training dogs to taking their temperatures. She seized the chance to return to study and earned an MA, followed by a PhD, in Art History. Katherine spends her spare time writing, dancing and teaching other people’s dogs to ride skateboards. She lives in suburban Melbourne with Leonardo the Borzoi, Oberon the Scottish Deerhound and a legion of dog-fur dust bunnies. In 2012 she was long-listed for the Voiceless Writing Prize and she continues to contribute to academic publications.