After the death of its patriarch, a family is reunited to settle his estate and revisit the long-unsolved theft of a valuable and possibly cursed painting by Goya.
In his second novel, Olson (The Icon, 2005) explores the dynamics of a dysfunctional family and their relationship with Goya’s terrifying self-portrait—part of the notorious Black Paintings collection he created at Quinta del Sordo in the early 1820s. The promising setup begins with the discovery of Alfred Morse’s body by his granddaughter Teresa, who, along with her three cousins, had been summoned by their grandfather for private interviews at his estate, which none of them had visited since the painting was stolen when they were children. Shortly thereafter, the story flounders with disjointed scenes that have little relevance to the painting’s theft, including a sexual encounter between Dave Webster, a private eye hired to find the missing artwork, and Audrey, one of the cousins. Clichés abound with the reading of the will, which leaves the bulk of Morse's estate to Ilsa, his loyal housekeeper and suspected lover. Readers get a better picture of the cousins’ personalities when they reunite that evening to discuss their inheritance, the painting, and their lives. Angered by their grandfather’s demands, they burn the letters that accompanied his will saying they will each receive $250,000 if they get needed treatment for medical or psychiatric problems. The pace picks up halfway through when Teresa and Dave join forces to figure out who stole the painting and where it is. They discover sordid family secrets and specific details of the events that led to the painting’s disappearance, triggering a memory Teresa had repressed of that night.
Olson lures the reader with a promising psychological thriller but disappoints by merely scratching the surface of psychosis and terror.