Investigator Lord Francis Powerscourt often complains about his wife Lucy’s extended family, but her connections prove invaluable when he’s drawn into the murder of her cousin, art critic Christopher Montague.
In 1899, the relatively new de Courcy and Piper Gallery sponsors a highly successful exhibition of Venetian paintings—Old Masters whose value on the art market, driven by railroad and steel nouveaux riches from the US, is just beginning to take off. Whatever the source of their wealth, Edmund de Courcy and William Alaric Piper are delighted with both the Americans’ acquisitiveness and their ignorance of art. Critic Christopher Montague, however, hoping his own lack of ignorance will lead to lucrative work, is putting the finishing touches on an exposé of Old Master forgeries when someone garrotes him. Beyond the shady characters in the London art world, Powerscourt finds a wide range of suspects, including the husband of one of Montague’s lovers, on a pilgrimage to hear Evensong in every cathedral in England. As with Old Master portraits, acute background details (attempted assassination in Corsica, a Norfolk family disinherited by a expatriate patriarch, a penniless painter winning and losing a fortune at the casino) often prove more compelling than the figures in the foreground.
Though much of the rich detail here ends up having little to do with the murder, readers will enjoy the whole picture.