Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

When it came out in the news a couple of years ago that there was a perfectly preserved apartment in Paris that had been closed up and untouched since WWII, it was such an intriguing piece of news. Why would someone walk away from their apartment, never to return? What was in this unexpected time capsule? Were the people dead and gone, victims of the war? Were they still alive but unable to face the memories of the place? The truth could have been anything. The romance of it was in imagining the story behind all of it. If in fact, the real story did come out, it wasn't covered in the news anywhere near as completely as the discovery itself was. Karen Swan imagined her own back story for an apartment like this, complete with a fabulously wealthy family, war crimes, amazing art treasures, and closely held secrets in her newest novel, The Paris Secret.

When the Vermeils, a wealthy and high profile French family, discover that they own an apartment in Paris that hasn't been opened since 1943, they call in a discreet fine arts agency to examine, catalog, and potentially sell whatever might be inside. A codicil to Mr. Vermeil's late father's will forbids Jacques and his wife from going into the apartment themselves until after both the late Francois' and his still very much alive wife's deaths. Flora Sykes is the fine arts agent assigned to the strange and intriguing find, made even more exciting when the apartment turns out to be filled with valuable art. It falls to Flora to trace the provenance on everything they discover, including a long lost Renoir and smaller pieces by other famous artists. As Flora chases down the history of the pieces, she is also dealing with a devastating family situation at home in England. The urgency and discretion required by both situations are overwhelming; luckily Flora is a professional. Although she cannot or will not share everything that is going on in her life, she does have some good friends in Paris to lean on for support. They come in particularly handy when she clashes repeatedly with the spoiled, angry, obnoxious, and badly behaved in every sense of the word, adult children of Jacques and Lilian, Xavier and Natascha. But if playboy, partier Xavier is truly so unpleasant, why is Flora so pulled to him?

Of course, the family is, or should be, of little consequence to her; she is working on the amazing art. Unfortunately she can get no further on the provenance of the art treasures than that they were last known to be sold to a notorious Nazi collaborator, a fact that renders them close to worthless despite their authenticity. Dogged in her determination to find the proof that the Vermeil family came to own these pieces honestly and not simply because desperate Jewish families sold the only things they had of any worth in an attempt to escape Hitler's genocide, Flora digs deep, uncovering secrets that the will's codicil was meant to forever hide, changing and then changing again the Vermeil family's knowledge of itself.

Anyone who knows the art world will immediately see the difficulty in finding a long abandoned stash of valuable art in Europe and have certain expectations regarding the plot of the novel. Swan has done a good job leading even the non-art savvy to the same conclusions and then to twist the plot a hair's breadth, writing a very different story than the one the reader expects. But that's not the end of her slight of hand as she is clearly a master of the unexpected. The family crisis that consumes Flora is very slowly revealed and its importance seems to be only in adding to Flora's stress level until it too is takes on rather more weight in the narrative. While Flora is well fleshed out, some of her motivations or actions are given a tad bit of a short shrift, and despite being an expert at her job and therefore used to dealing with impossibly large sums of money and the people who have it, she is strangely uncertain and occasionally even timid in most of the dealings highlighted in the book. The secondary characters do change the direction of the plot on several occasions but, for the most part, they remain fairly unrealized beyond these plot diversionary roles. The romantic connection is background rather than the main focus of the novel although it grows in importance as the story progresses. There are a few hiccups in the plot such as why, if the family has never stepped foot in the apartment or have any knowledge of what's inside, do they immediately call a fine arts dealer to inventory the contents and why is it so easy for serious and real trust issues to be overcome in the end (over a mere half page) simply by declaring "love"? Over all though, this is an engaging imagining of the story behind an abandoned apartment and an interesting look into the world of fine art and the detective work required to verify and trace it. Readers who love uncovering deeply buried secrets, those who want a small glimpse into the rarefied world of the super rich, and those with an interest in art will find this a worthwhile read.

For more information about Karen Swan and the book, check out her publisher author page or like her on Facebook or Twitter. Check out the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.
Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. I remember hearing about this discovery a while ago and finding it completely fascinating! I'm looking forward to seeing the story the author creates about this real life location!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.


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