After her fabulous debut, The Portrait of Molly Dean, Katherine Kovacic brings us another Alex Clayton mystery set in Melbourne’s art world.
Set in 2000, a year after the events in The Portrait of Molly Dean, art dealer Alex Clayton and her best friend, art conservator John Porter, are visiting the Melbourne International Museum of Art (the NGV in fictional disguise) for a preview of their latest exhibition.
A bittersweet note is already struck as it’s clear Alex has a mysterious but clearly unhappy past with MIMA. Alex’s discomfort is soon shoved aside first by the collapse of a gallery worker which damages the key piece for display (the real 1864 Landseer painting, Man Proposes, God Disposes, which remains undamaged by fiction) and soon after, the death of the gallery’s senior conservator Meredith Buchanan in front of the very painting she’s meant to be repairing.
Alex and John immediately notice some oddities about Meredith’s death and some of the items found where she died. The police, unfamiliar with the nuances of the art world, aren’t receptive to their doubts, inclined to believe the death a suicide.
As naturally nosy people, Alex and John decide at once that they’ll poke around some of these discrepancies and oddities they’ve found to see if there’s anything in it, and to hand over any evidence of murder to the police.
We all know how that tends to work out in a mystery novel.
John is quickly employed to oversee the restoration of such a valuable painting, giving Alex reason to mooch around the place as well, so they have plenty of opportunity to ask questions, go into cupboards looking for skeletons and generally be amateur sleuths.
Alex and John’s long friendship is shown to wonderful advantage as they collude in how to follow up their hunches and suspicions. Their whole relationship is given more texture by the personal problems they’re each facing. Alex’s art dealership isn’t providing financial stability, and hanging around the gallery is making her reflect on that lost chance at MIMA all those years ago when the unnamed scandal saw her kicked out of the gallery. John’s difficult marriage is an earthy personal counterpoint to Alex’s professional woes.
One of the great charms of Kovacic’s books is how she brings her personal knowledge and love of art history to her work. Alex is surely channelling Kovacic in her capacity to talk with engaging passion and clarity about what a picture or artist means to her without disappearing down a well of art wank. (That said, there’s a hilarious scene in which Alex and John deploy art wank strategically for investigative purposes which is a favourite!)
Painting in the Shadows is nicely paced, balanced well between the mystery, Alex and John’s personal and professional troubles, the many other relationships, and the world of art. It’s clever and engaging, the protagonists are likeable and the denouement neat.
After the resolution to the mystery, enough personal titbits remain to fill in the background for another book.
There is going to be another book, isn’t there Ms Kovacic?
On the brink of a new year, I’m looking back on 2018 with satisfaction and maybe a smidge of exhaustion. 2019 looks to be just as full of writing challenges and delights!
In case you missed anything, I’ve summarised my writing year below – and teased with some of my upcoming projects for 2019!
Thank you all for your support during the year – 2018 was fraught in many ways, but I hope it brought rewards as well. May 2019 bring you more of what you love, and more of what heals you.
Holmes and Watson in Love
My second Improbable Press Holmes/Watson book came out in June. A Dream to Build a Kiss On is a single story arc told over 100 stories of exactly 221 words each and the last word of each story begins with b. 221b. 🙂 It’s the first of a series of 221b stories for IP. (The second was A Study in Velvet and Leather, which I adore.)
Writing 100 stories in that format, and with a contemporary setting, was a challenge which I enjoyed immensely. I may even take it up again later next year!
Although not yet published, Kitty and Cadaver made an official debut with a song! “The Rain Song” appears about half way through the book. The band Bronze has released it on their EP The Razorback Five Track.
(And yes, one of the songs on the EP is inspired by that Ausploitation horror film, Razorback!)
Here is “Rain Song” – a song about precipitation which is also a spell to make it rain!
I sold a few Holmes and Watson stories during the year: in one, I recast them as contemporary Australian hipsters in “The Problem of the Three Journals“, solving crime and serving excellent coffee, for the Baker Street Irregulars: The Game Is Afoot anthology.
I admit the most fun I had with short fiction this year was my contribution to Grant Me the Carving of My Name, a collection of stories about Richard III edited by Alex Marchant and designed to raise funds for the Scoliosis Association UK.
One of my very few science fiction tales was published this year too – “Earworm Armageddon“, told from the PoV of a deaf protagonist, was picked up by Jay Henge publishing for Wavelengths.
Patreon and Duo Ex Machina
My most massive achievement this year – in term of words and time – was setting up my Patreon, through which I’ve re-edited and re-published my two M/M crime novellas, Fly By Night and Sacrifice.
These novellas were first published in 2004 by Homosapien Press. Now I’ve repackaged them as the Duo Ex Machina series, and the third (and brand new) novella, Number One Fan, is being published in fornightly chapters for my Patreon supporters. (Thanks guys!)
I also prepped a few reprinted stories and wrote a whole slew of fresh ones for the Scar Tissue and Other Stories collection for my Patreon supporters. (Thank you again – you guys are the best.)
My patrons received the book in November, and the official release (a co-production with Clan Destine Press) is scheduled for around February 2019, after a few delays pushed it back.
Then in March, the third Duo Ex Machina novella, Number One Fan, will finish its chapter-by-chapter run and be prepared for an ebook release.
Pipping that one at the post will be Grounded, a spec fic romance about two people who can’t fly in a world with wings. Escape Publishing has done a beautiful job of the cover and I’m excited to see this book released on 20 March!
Still to come
Of course, this only brings us to March. I’m sitting on an announcement for a short story that’s been accepted – when the anthology is officially announced I’ll send out the news first in my new newsletter, Mortal Whispers.
The first novel I’m working on for the year (now that Grounded is all edited and ready to go) is Kitty and Cadaver. I’m hoping for that to come out mid year in time for some SF conventions in June.
I plan to tackle the third in the Vampires of Melbourne series, which will coincide with a re-release of the first two books as ebooks with new covers.
I’ll also be working on the fourth Duo Ex Machina novella, Kiss and Cry from April onwards.
Clan Destine Press’s new release, All Our Secrets, is set in the fictional small town of Coongahoola in NSW.
Set in 1984, the town is steeped in the consequences of a wild party on the banks of the Bagooli River in 1975 and the rush of children born nine months later. The fathers of the River Children are not necessarily the men married to their mothers.
Nine years later, one of the River Children goes missing, his body turning up a few days later by the river. He is the first of a string of murders. One of the children who may be the next target is Elijah Barrett.
His 11 year old sister, Gracie, is our guide to Coongahoola. Through her eyes we meet her chaotic family, her town, the shock of the murders and her beloved brother.
Lane imbues Gracie with a realism that makes the young girl sympathetic and irritating in turns, though her innate kindness is her saving grace (as it were) even when she’s not always making the kindest decisions in her attempts to fit in to the town’s narrow social expectations. She is struggling with the estrangement of her parents, her sometimes embarrassingly religious grandmother, her crush on the boy next door and her anxiety from the usual array of schoolground bullying and snooty cliques.
Through this thoroughly believable child, Lane captures the personalities and quirks of the people of Coongahoola. As each child disappears, only to be found murdered, the net of suspicion is cast wide – from townspeople to the group of religious devotees who have recently set up camp by the river. The parallels between the personal chaos of Gracie’s world and that of the whole town is clear: all the rivalries and jealousies, the in and out groups, the unfounded rumours and blame games.
All Our Secrets is a gripping and perfectly paced story, balanced splendidly between Gracie’s distress and concern for her family ad the fear experienced by the wider community as their children become victims.
It’s no surprise to learn that All Our Secrets won the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel in New Zealand. Clan Destine Press has brought this fantastic book, with it’s unusual and powerful point of view, to a new audience. Get it now to read a fresh new voice in Australian crime.