19th / 21st centuries
Dublin, Ukraine, Vienna, London
At an auction, Daisy and Ben discover that they own paintings that appear to be exact duplicates. One is signed, the other is not. Curiously, Daisy looks something like the lady in the painting. This sets them on a search to find out why two copies were made of the same painting and if both are authentic.
The earlier part of the story begins with a family of Russian Jews. Two sisters, Rosa and Lena, are concerned about their future marriages. One day, when Rosa goes to the riverbank to do laundry, she is assaulted by a Russian soldier, and saved from certain rape by her beloved fiancé, Isaac. Beautiful Lena doesn’t want to marry the man her parents have chosen for her, and convinces Isaac that he would be unwise to marry her sister, who might be carrying the child of a Russian soldier. Isaac is captivated and chooses her, leaving kind Rosa broken hearted.
Sometime into the marriage, Isaac decides to have his wife’s portrait painted. Only the artist knows the secret of the two paintings and he is long gone. Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the two amateur sleuths are getting answers which lead to other questions and at the same time coming to realise that their present partners are not very satisfactory and getting chummy with each other.
The lives of ordinary Jews in Russia at that time, the way they dealt with marriage, divorce and the taint of scandal, were aspects of the story that the author wove in with finesse. And the story itself was intriguing, in the sense of – I can’t wait to find out what happens next. As the Dublin pair globe-trot to Vienna and London, leads are revealed to them in a timely fashion, so that nothing is given away until the climax when the secret is revealed ... (no spoilers!)
Characters are wonderfully drawn with very human frailties and strengths that shine, particularly the Jews, and the pages are filled with emotion that kept me wanting to read more right to the very satisfactory ending.
There is one little blemish I must add. It was a huge coincidence that both paintings were in the same auction on the same day, and that their owners were a young male and a young female, both in unsatisfactory relationships. All very understandable in the creation of the plot. Acknowledging this in no way spoilt my enjoyment of this thoroughly engrossing story, and I highly recommend it.
(The book is a steal at the pricc, but maybe the cover, while nicely designed, doesn’t do it justice?)
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Susan Appleyard