In Katherine Kovacic’s debut novel The Portrait Of Molly Dean an unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years…
The Portrait of Molly Dean Synopsis:
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.
‘A swirl of history, art, intrigue and murder that brings 1930s Melbourne to life’—Gideon Haigh
(Echo Publishing, 2018)
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The Portrait of Molly Dean has all the makings of a cracking read… Credit to Echo for the striking cover art, and the story premise is fantastic, present day art dealer come amateur sleuth investigating a real-life unsolved murder.
I love fiction based on fact, and the facts pertaining to this particular murder of a young and spirited aspiring writer ensconced in the colourful 1930s Melbourne art scene are particularly intriguing. But unfortunately, this idea’s execution fell short of my expectations in a few respects.
The past-present dual narrative structure worked well. It allowed Kovacic to introduce and gradually develop her two female lead characters, and maintain reader interest while she delivered a substantial amount of information. I found the background on Australian artists, their works and conservation techniques very interesting. That said, some weaknesses in the prose itself broke the story spell for me on several occasions.
Dialogue is one of the most difficult things to write, and some passages that appear in The Portrait of Molly Dean, particularly those where one character conveys to another character what a third person had told them, felt decidedly unnatural. The prose itself also seemed uneven and at times lacked polish/finesse, the reader often told rather than shown.
My favourite, and I think most successful character interactions were those between Alex Clayton, her loyal hound Hogarth and quirky conservator John Porter — their companionable quips endearing and rapid fire banter entertaining.
While on balance my admiration for Kovacic’s story ambition far exceeded that of its execution, several other readers have nothing but glowing praise for The Portrait of Molly Dean.
BOOK RATING: The Story 3 / 5 ; The Writing 3 / 5
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Genre: Historical, Mystery, Drama, Crime
About the Author, Katherine Kovacic
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. The Portrait of Molly Dean is her debut novel.
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* My receiving a copy of The Portrait of Molly Dean from the publisher for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions in the review above.