The 18th Roy Grace novel is a fun and entertaining art world caper. It begins in 2015, when an art dealer comes across a long-lost painting by Jean-Honore Fragonard: Spring, one of four that the painter created for the four seasons. Alone, it could bring in about GBP 3 – 5 million; if the full set was completed, the value skyrocketed to about ten times as much. The art dealer is killed before he could sell it.
Fast forward to 2019, when Harry and Freya, an ordinary couple who love shopping at car boot sales, stumble upon what could be another painting in the series, Summer. Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, still mourning the recent death of his son, has assembled a team to investigate the cold case of the art dealer’s murder in 2015.
From fairly early on in the novel, we know who the major players are. We know there’s a ruthless art collector who’s not above using shady means to acquire the works he desires. We know his right hand man has worked with a well-known art forger, and we also know that Harry has reached out to this art forger for advice about his painting.
The direction this thriller will take is no mystery, and I don’t think I would necessarily label this a high-octane thriller. Yet it’s very much a character-driven one, and very effective at what it does. Within their first appearance, I was full-on rooting for Harry and Freya. I sympathized with their struggles in managing their son Tom’s diabetes vis-a-vis his sweet tooth, and I was especially invested in hoping that their beloved rescue cat Jinx survives whatever happens. (I’m glad to say he does, and true to cats everywhere, his role seems to be to run away from danger, while his humans are quite a bit slower to pick up on the signals.)
Some of Harry’s decisions, ironically including the ones he makes to protect his investment in the painting, don’t work out at all like he plans, and in fact sometimes end up just creating more problems. And that really worked for me. Because his mistakes aren’t totally off-the-mark; he’s not so much a totally hapless innocent as he is a regular person caught in a situation far beyond his experience. His and Freya’s desire for a better life is very understandable, and I just kept wishing they offloaded the painting to an auction house already, so they get all the money they’re entitled to, before the shady art collector and his team close in.
While Roy Grace and his detectives did play a part in solving the mystery, they almost felt sidelined to the core of the thrills, which for me, centred on the various other characters playing cat and mouse over this painting. For me, the series characters shone most in their B plots — Roy Grace mourning his son’s death and trying to learn more about his son’s final moments (I wish I’d remembered more about what happened in the last book); Grace’s protege Glenn Branson, wanting to be supportive of his fiancee’s career, but also wanting to have more kids, and clashing with his fiancee about her investigation on corruption on the force; and Norman Potting, who makes lots of off-colour jokes but is also dealing with a lot in his personal life. I was drawn by these subplots as well, and found that they gave a nice respite from the main storyline.
Overall, this was a fun book, and a great escape for a weekend.
Thank you to Publishers Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.