Three young women, joined by their independent spirits and love of art, become embroiled in a criminal plot in belle epoque Paris.
This rousing novel by Robertson (Circle of Shadows, 2013, etc.) starts calmly enough. Maud Heighton, a young Englishwoman in 1909, is a student at the Académie Lafond, an all-female painting school suitable for women of a middle-class background. Maud, however, is near destitute. Her meager inheritance covers little more than a room and the academy’s fees. She skimps on food to the extent that her hunger is noticed by the school’s regular model, Yvette. Also noting Maud’s obvious pride, the low-class Montmartre girl sends another student, Tanya, a rich, bright Russian, to intervene. With the help of a charity, they get Maud employed by a French gentleman, Christian Morel, as a companion to his sickly sister, Sylvie. That the position seems too good to be true is explained away by Christian’s confession that Sylvie is an opium addict, a secret Maud guards as her own in exchange for being well fed and having the freedom to paint. Maud, Tanya and Yvette are such distinct, likable characters that if there were no more plot than their striving for their own livelihoods it would be a lovely novel. Luckily, for lovers of adventure, there is more. The Morels are far more dangerous than they appear, and once the seeds of intrigue are planted, the scope of the book (and of Maud’s worldview) is expanded to encompass murderous plots, shady Parisian undersides, upper-class dealings, gems of history and gems—as in jewels. The women are heartwarming as friends and delightfully effective as crime fighters.
With a twisty, well-crafted plot, this novel is rich in historical detail and robust with personality.