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THE CHRYSALIS by Heather Terrell

THE CHRYSALIS

By Heather Terrell

Pub Date: May 15th, 2007
ISBN: 0-345-49466-0
Publisher: Ballantine

Beautiful lawyer, tricked into defending Nazi loot, seeks to undo past wrongs.

Mara Coyne is up for a partnership if she can win one for a major client. Before it can make a lucrative sale, ritzy auction house Beazley’s needs legal defense to prove that a 16th-century masterpiece, The Chrysalis, wasn’t stolen by the Nazis in 1943. As an added incentive, Mara finds that her contact at the auction house is the dashing Michael, an old college crush. Having spent too many years burning the midnight oil for the Manhattan law firm, she’s easy prey, and she and Michael begin a secret affair while she works with Beazley’s formidable expert, Lillian, to prove the painting’s flawless provenance. But two intersecting storylines—one introducing the painting’s secretly Catholic creator who worked in staunchly Calvinist Holland, the other recreating the wartime Jewish owners—foreshadow Mara’s ultimate discovery that documents have been forged and her newfound love is compromised. Teaming up with the elderly, elegant Lillian, who was also deceived by love 60 years before, she jets to London to uncover the truth. Like the painting, Terrell’s debut is full of lovely detail, from the descriptions of the Dutch landscape to the ’40s fashions of the wealthy Baum family. A theme of hidden faith and passion runs solidly throughout this slim thriller. The painter, Johannes Miereveld, pours his secret faith into the painting, which also reveals a forbidden love affair. The Baums, labeled Jews by the Nazis, had thought themselves Catholic. And Mara finds herself recalling her beloved Irish Catholic grandmother as she learns about betrayal and finds her moral core. But the plot is thinner than new varnish. The author telegraphs Michael’s duplicity from the start and the resolution is too quickly tied up through brief or off-stage meetings, and a final letter that seeks to weave all the historical strands together.

Sleek historical mystery glides by on detail, but lacks plot depth.