When I visited the Prada museum in Madrid, the focus was Diego Valazquez’s intricate “Las Meninas,” but the image of one of Goya’s “Black Paintings” – the disturbing portrait of Saturn Devouring His Son is hard to forget. Neil Olson imagines a mysterious missing addition to the famous collection the seventy year old artist painted on his walls – a self-portrait of Goya which hangs in the study of a wealthy collector, who uses it to control his family in the story of The Black Painting.
The power of art to evoke personal epiphanies is one of Olson’s themes as he weaves a complicated tale of greed and anxiety in The Black Painting. The painting covered the wall behind the locked door of the Morse patriarch’s study, and was rumored to cause death and madness. The famous painting was long ago stolen, when the grandchildren were young,
Before he dies, the family is summoned to Owl’s Point to hear Alfred Arthur Morse’s conditions for distributing his wealth – the mansion as well as an extensive art collection. When she arrives at the mansion, Teresa, a student of art history, finds her grandfather dead, his face contorted in an expression of horror and his gaze fixed on the spot where the Goya painting once hung, The mystery of its thief and the patriarch’s diabolic intentions for his progeny create a thrilling story of deceit, corruption, and dark family secrets.
Olson cleverly allows the reader’s imagination to fill in the creepy details of the Goya painting , which is never actually described in any detail—a device that allows the reader to create a personal image of horror. A gripping tale you will read in a sitting…
Harriet Lane’s suspenseful thriller – Her – uses an unlikable revengeful protagonist to methodically stalk her unknowing prey. The book is a page-turner: you will know early in the story who the victim, Emma, is and her past relationship to the sly Nina – but you will wonder exactly how far Nina will go to exact her revenge. The ending will have you holding your breath.
As in her first book – Alys, Always – Lane focuses on the characters, slowly revealing the unlikely villain, until you are caught in the story and wanting to alert the poor target of the venom. In Her, Nina recognizes an old foe and carefully calculates how to exact revenge for something that happened so long ago that Emma doesn’t even remember it. Nina remains incognito as she slyly insinuates herself into Emma’s life – stealing her wallet and then pretending to have found it, luring her toddler into the woods and then alerting the police to his rescue. The chapters alternate between Emma and Nina, each relating the same incident, but from a different perspective – Nina, the stalker; Emma, the vulnerable target.
A great read – not only for the comparison of the lives of two forty-year olds – one who wears Prada, the other stumbling through parenting a toddler and a newborn – but also for the intense psychological thrills as the story quickly progresses to a climax. Harriet Lane has mastered the art of the dangerous female protagonist; I can’t wait for her next one.