A Trace of Deceit is second in a series by Karen Odden. You do not have to read the first to enjoy the second, although there are a couple subtle links/mentions that you’ll enjoy if you do. The first one in the series, A Dangerous Duet, I have a review posted for here.
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A young painter digs beneath the veneer of Victorian London’s art world to learn the truth behind her brother’s murder…
Edwin is dead. That’s what Inspector Matthew Hallam of Scotland Yard tells Annabel Rowe when she discovers him searching her brother’s flat for clues. While the news is shocking, Annabel can’t say it’s wholly unexpected, given Edwin’s past as a dissolute risk-taker and art forger, although he swore he’d reformed. After years spent blaming his reckless behavior for their parents’ deaths, Annabel is now faced with the question of who murdered him—because Edwin’s death was both violent and deliberate. A valuable French painting he’d been restoring for an auction house is missing from his studio: find the painting, find the murderer. But the owner of the artwork claims it was destroyed in a warehouse fire years ago.
As a painter at the prestigious Slade School of Art and as Edwin’s closest relative, Annabel makes the case that she is crucial to Matthew’s investigation. But in their search for the painting, Matthew and Annabel trace a path of deceit and viciousness that reaches far beyond the elegant rooms of the auction house, into an underworld of politics, corruption, and secrets someone will kill to keep.
Thanks to Karen Odden, I’ve discovered an era (and a genre) I really enjoy! I definitely need to find some more Victorian era books to fall into. If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments below!
I really loved A Trace of Deceit and if I could give half stars, it would be 4.5!
First of all, Odden is SO good at painting a scene. You really feel like you’re in Victorian London because of the way she weaves in the sights, sounds, and smells of the streets and buildings. You can just picture the streets, paved with cobblestones and bustling with foot traffic and hansom cabs.
The main character, Annabel, is a very strong female character for that time period, and I loved her. She’s at an artist school that’s dominated by men, as one of the first women to attend. She’s smart, strong, persuasive, and bold. She’s able to insert herself into the investigation into her brother’s death and hold her own alongside Matthew, the Scotland Yard inspector.
Now, for the mystery. This one kept me guessing for a long time. There are a lot of characters in this world of painters and collectors, and I really didn’t know who to suspect. This is the only spot where I took off a half star, because I have to admit, I got a little lost at points. I’m not sure if I just wasn’t paying enough attention or what exactly happened, but characters would come back into the story or be mentioned by another character and I would totally draw a blank as to who that person was.
There’s also just a little bit of romance going on here, but I loved that it didn’t just overtake the mystery, as I think some authors might be tempted to do with a single female character as the lead. The mystery really held the primary storyline, with the romance nestling in perfectly along the side. It wasn’t too much and it wasn’t too little.
Overall, this was the perfect COVID quarantine read. It pulled me into an entire other world and time period, and I just loved it. Like I said above, I feel inspired to read more Victorian era fiction/mysteries! 4.5 stars.
Author Essay – Karen Odden
One of my favorite researchers and writers, Brené Brown, says that our deepest need is for connection to other people. We long to belong, to be part of at least one community if not more—whether that group be writers, readers, survivors, a political party, a profession, or our family. We often long to feel included in the sweeping arc of time and to participate in the world beyond our own hometown. This desire to belong has been thrown into relief with Covid-19, when paradoxically the most loving, community-oriented act we can take is to stay away from others.
Fortunately, we have books.
Books have always been a way for me to connect. As a lonely, withdrawn child, I found my communities and friends there. I rode shotgun with Nancy Drew in her powder-blue convertible and crept up the rickety stairs at her heels. I ice-skated with Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy in wintry New England. I traipsed through the tree-lined lanes in Avonlea with Anne and Diana, Marilla and Matthew. I borrowed one of Scarlett’s dresses to attend the Wilkes’s ball.
Eventually I outgrew my solitary ways—partly because I spent two summers bartending at an airport, where you simply cannot be shy. And twelve years ago, when I drafted my first book, A Lady in the Smoke (Random House/Alibi, 2015), I had no idea of the deeper themes I wanted to address. Honestly, I thought I was writing a mystery about 1870s railway schemes. But now, with three books down and working on the fourth, I realize I explore a similar core story each time—about a heroine who has had experiences that keep her from connecting deeply and authentically with others, but who evolves to discover intimacy and belonging.
In my most recent historical mystery, A Trace of Deceit (Harper Collins, 2019), Annabel Rowe is one of the few female students at the Slade School of Art in London, which was founded in 1871. (That is true history; for further information on the 1870s London art world, the Slade, and my career at Christie’s auction house, visit my blog at www.karenodden.com or flip to the “Behind the Book” essay at the back of the novel.) Annabel’s brilliant older brother Edwin, an opium user and a convicted art forger, has recently been released from prison, and he swears to Annabel that he has reformed and wants to mend their frayed relationship. She longs to believe him, but she has heard these promises before. Then, one day, she visits his flat, where she finds two Scotland Yard inspectors riffling through his belongings. Edwin has been murdered, and a priceless French painting that he was restoring for auction has been stolen. Devastated, Annabel is desperate to know what happened—not merely out of curiosity, or to bring the murderer to justice, but to know whether Edwin had indeed been telling her the truth. Had their growing intimacy, in those months before his death, been real? Had Edwin truly been present in their little group of two?
Because Annabel is Edwin’s closest relative and also knowledgeable about the art and auction world, she becomes integral to Inspector Hallam’s investigation. As Annabel and Inspector Hallam follow the trail of clues, it leads far into Edwin’s past—to old emotional wounds and memories that shift their shape over time. Over the course of the novel, Annabel must grow and change in order to solve the mystery of Edwin’s death, to find the place where she belongs among the Slade artists, and to satisfy the deepest wishes of her heart.