Hello fans of The Art Forger…B.A. Shapiro has just come out with another fabulous art related novel. Alizee Benoit is a young artist in the 1940s. Interesting to me was that part of The New Deal and the WPA (Works Progress Administration) was the Federal Art Project. They employed artists (over 10,000) to create art both as a relief effort and to create easel drawings, sculptures, paintings, murals and other artwork for non-federal municipal buildings. The WPA wanted to combine the creativity of these artists with the values of the American people. Alizee is part of the project, and in 1940 she goes missing, never to be heard from again. Her Jewish family living in German occupied France can’t contact her, her artist friends who include Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and Lee Krasner don’t know where to find her. Even Eleanor Roosevelt, her patron, is unable to locate her. Fast forward 70 years and meet Danielle Abrams, Benoit’s great niece. Danielle works for Christie’s auction house, and is investigating pieces of a mural found behind other paintings. According to artbusiness.com, the federal government has been trying to locate and catalog art from the Federal Art Project for the past several years. Danielle traces the mural back to her great aunt, and follows her trail to its end in 1940.
Here is what I liked: the blend of historical and fictional characters, the political background leading up to our entry into World War II, the descriptions of the art scene in New York, a deeper picture of the artists. I also found the depiction of European refugees and their attempts to get into the United States very relevant to today’s world. I appreciate when fiction based on another time period can dissect and teach us something so applicable to current events. And, it is a page turner!
The third in Robert Galbrith’s Cormoran Strike mystery series opens with the grisly delivery of a woman’s severed leg to Robin Ellacott, Strike’s assistant. Tucked under the leg are the lyrics to the Blue Oyster Cult song “Mistress of the Salt” , a song that Strike’s mother, Leda Strike, had tattooed on her body. The threat to Strike and Robin is clear. In Strike’s mind there are four men from his past possible of such a horrible act: his junkie former step-father, a pedophile, a mafia hoodlum and a violent ex-army man. While the police focus on the one suspect Strike feels is least likely to have committed the brutal act, Strike and Robin actively pursue the three remaining viable suspects as the actual killer stalks Robin through the streets of London.
In this book, we finally get some back story on both Robin and Strike and the romantic tension that is between them is finally acknowledged. While investigating each of the three suspects, Galbraith fills in Strike’s character, adding new dimension to her lead detective. For much of the book, Robin works along side Strike and struggles to find the balance in their partnership. Robin also wrestles with whether to marry her longtime fiance Matthew and the reader finally learn why Robin never finished school, why she has stuck with a boyfriend so patently safe and boring.
As J.K. Rowling did with the fictional Hogworts, Robert Galbraith does with the very real London- he creates a world of bright warm pubs, smelly damp tube cars and misty city streets. Some have criticized Rowling/Galbraith’s writing of contrasting good and bad too sharply, and while here she does write of a great evil, the sociopath hunting all women in a sense, and the ostensibly good people trying to stop him, Galbraith also writes about the small everyday evils that people knowingly inflict upon other people that are just as damaging. I am just enjoying this new adventure that Rowling/Galbraith is taking me on with Cormoran Strike and his partner Robin Ellacott.
It is 1941, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Winston Churchill makes a visit to the United States, accompanied by Maggie Hope, a secret agent posing as his typist. While they are in Washington, staying at the White House and the Mayflower Hotel, one of Eleanor Roosevelt’s aides purportedly commits suicide. Or is it murder? Maggie is quickly drawn into Eleanor’s confidence as she investigates. Maggie is also drawn into the case of Wendell Cotton, an African American southern sharecropper who has been condemned by an all white jury and sentenced to the electric chair. And then there is Maggie’s love interest, RAF pilot John Sterling. He arrives as part of Churchill’s entourage with hopes of spending some quality time with Maggie. His efforts are thwarted by the demands of Maggie’s sleuthing. Theirs has been a romance disabled by timing. Will John keep trying or will he pursue other interests? Will Maggie?
Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante is the 5th book in the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal. If you haven’t tried this series, it is worth a look. These books are rich in historical details, and share a more intimate perspective of historical figures. Adding to the scenery are some great minor roles for some famous Americans, like Walt Disney and C.S. Forester. Previous books have been set in England; moving this story to Maggie’s home turf for one book was a nice change.
I highly recommend the Maggie Hope series, and especially this well researched offering featuring Maggie at her best.