An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years …
So begins the blurb on the back cover of this enthralling read set in Melbourne. A dual timeline narrative, Katherine Kovacic creates two believable worlds: that of Melbourne in 1930 and 1999.
This debut novel opens with protagonist Alex Clayton, and art dealer, purchasing a female nude at auction that she believes is of Molly Dean and painted by Colin Colahan. We are quickly taken into her world through a first person perspective and the solid pace of this laconic independent woman. Her research into Molly Dean creates intrigue, and she seeks restoration assistance from her close friend John Porter.
In contrast, Molly is discovered through third person and we come to understand her vivacity, determination and independence as she seeks to leave the world of teaching in pursuit of literary success. Kovacic cleverly sustains this peek into the past by weaving factual evidence and real characters with fictional elements.
The dry humour and banter between Alex and John is a pleasure to read and is a strong balance to the horror of Molly’s increasingly narrowing life. The shocking details, including the police bungling and failed trial are effectively portrayed. These serve as a reminder of the social pressures for women to ‘behave’ even if they are part of a bohemian crowd.
‘Oh come on. Most of the women in this room,’ Constance waved an arm expansively over her head in the general direction of the lounge, ‘have spent their adult lives concocting stories and treading carefully to get to where they are today. Even if you’re planning on riding roughshod over the masculine powers that be, you have to disguise the fact you’re going to do it.
At 275 pages this is an engaging and quick read. There are also discussion questions for reading groups, and it would be a very entertaining book club novel to chat about with wine. I’m looking forward to reading the next Alex Clayton: Painting in the Shadows..
The Portrait of Molly Dean, 2018, is published by Echo, a division of Bonnier Publishing Australia.