In this novel, a Yale student investigating her roommate’s disappearance uncovers clues to a centuries-old art mystery and a shadowy group of art collectors.
Sabrina Gutierrez and Danielle Carruthers have little in common besides being Yale roommates. Sabrina was raised by her Colombian single mother who worked two jobs to support her, and Danielle comes from wealth and privilege. But the two become close friends, Sabrina being touched by Danielle’s kindness. She feels compelled to investigate when Danielle goes missing, especially since she’s certain that Whitmore Verhaast, a charismatic Yale art history professor and Danielle’s senior adviser, is involved. Sabrina has reason to think the worst of Verhaast, and as she digs for information, she discovers additional mysterious disappearances, all somehow linked to Johannes Vermeer; a convent in Belgium; and a secret, powerful cabal of art collectors with Nazi ties. And what of Hanna Deursen—a mistress and protégé of Vermeer’s fellow artist Carel Fabritius—whom Verhaast warned Danielle to stop researching? Sabrina’s investigations could bring Verhaast down and destroy some received notions of art history, but powerful forces are amassed against her. Halaban (The Last Commission, 2014, etc.) offers something rare in thriller novels: a strong female friendship and an honest-to-goodness heroine who has no extraordinary skills or weapons beyond her courage, intelligence, compassion, and determination. Bombastic egotists like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon often inhabit thriller plots; what a pleasure it is to see his ilk skewered in the loathsome Verhaast. In contrast, Sabrina’s willingness to put pride aside if necessary and play dumb stand out as a special kind of bravery few authors would highlight in a badass-worshipping world. Similarly, Halaban’s characterization avoids clichés and is instead both deft and well-rounded. Danielle’s mother, for example, is no snobby Westport matron but a kind, thoughtful woman who treats Sabrina like family. Another nice touch is Sabrina’s growing trust in her sweet boyfriend, Josh, handled with unsentimental but moving realism. The plot moves briskly, with a growing sense of tension, toward a satisfying conclusion.
A fine thriller that’s intriguing and clever, appreciative of art’s power, and grounded in a sensitive humanity—a winner.