A missing painting connects the lives of Rose, a woman who escaped the Holocaust as a young girl, and Lizzie, a 37-year-old lawyer whose father just died.
After Rose’s parents put her and her brother on the Kindertransport from Vienna to England in 1939, she never saw them again. Also gone was The Bellhop, a painting by the expressionist Chaim Soutine. Over the years that followed, both Rose and The Bellhop separately found their ways to Los Angeles. The painting was purchased from a New York gallery by a wealthy eye surgeon named Joseph Goldstein, displayed in his steel-and-glass mansion overhanging a ravine in Los Angeles. When his daughter Lizzie, then 17, threw a wild house party when he was out of town, the painting, as well as a Picasso sketch, was stolen. Rose’s husband read of the theft in the paper; she contacted Joseph. But Lizzie and Rose do not meet until Joseph’s memorial service. By then, Lizzie’s life has been as shaped by the missing Bellhop as Rose’s has—for both, the painting’s departure from their lives coincided with a brutal loss of innocence. Lizzie is powerfully drawn to Rose, trying to build their coincidental connection into a real friendship over coffee dates and movies, and you can see why. Despite all her losses—on top of the Holocaust, her adored husband has recently died—Rose is an elegant, smart, utterly direct woman who loves the films of Roger Corman, tolerates no fools, and has strong opinions on everything. Her boyfriend is a Bruce Springsteen maniac. It is his offhand question about the insured value of the stolen artwork that drives Lizzie back into the investigation. A few of the plot developments at the end of the book are a little awkward, but when’s the last time you read a novel that didn’t have that problem?
Umansky’s richly textured and peopled novel tells an emotionally and historically complicated story with so much skill and confidence it’s hard to believe it’s her first.