no expert on painting. My knowledge of the subject pretty much
begins and ends with Hieronymus Bosch's work, and that's by choice.
Accordingly, a mystery involving paintings has to be really good
for me to be interested. Dan Brown published a novel of some renown
that fits this description, and David Hewson's A SEASON FOR THE
DEAD, which centers on paintings to a large degree, certainly does
as well. If I may, let me add to that short list THE
Heather Terrell's debut novel is set primarily in present-day New
York, but secondary storylines, taking place in Berlin of the 1940s
and the Netherlands of the 17th century, enhance the main
narrative. The Berlin backdrop provides added detail as to how
The Chrysalis passed from its rightful owner while giving
fascinating, if horrific, illustrations of how Nazi Germany
acquired a treasure trove of European art even as they pursued a
pogrom of extermination. It is the Netherlands storyline, however,
that is perhaps the most intriguing.
Terrell has created out of whole cloth a master painter named
Johannes Miereveld, whose penultimate creation, The
Chrysalis, becomes the catalyst for a drama that will occur
centuries later even as it symbolizes a personal and professional
dilemma in its own time. She thus draws a distinct and fascinating
line between past and present, comparing and contrasting them even
as it adds to the puzzle of the primary storyline.
Terrell has labored as an attorney in the fields of top law firms
and large corporations, and the experiences she has acquired along
the way inform at least part of the background of the novel. Mara
Coyne is an upwardly mobile Manhattan lawyer, on the fast track for
a partnership in a large and very powerful firm. She recognizes
that her assignment to defend Beazley's, a prestigious auction
house, is the equivalent of a final examination for that position.
The case against Beazley's involves an accusation that The
Chrysalis, the centerpiece painting of a forthcoming auction,
was the object of a Nazi wartime theft.
Coyne's extensive research and Beazley's copious documentation of
the chain of title appear to give Coyne a solid, impenetrable
defense. The fact that Beazley's in-house counsel is Michael
Roarke, an old college acquaintance for whom Coyne has strong
feelings, complicates matters, but not enough to keep Coyne and
Roarke from stoking the fires they're naturally inclined to build.
When Coyne discovers that Beazley's claims are suspect, however, it
places her in a dilemma in which professional ethics and moral
considerations conflict, even as she realizes that if she follows
the moral high road she will lose not only her case and job but
also her life.
Part mystery and part legal drama, THE CHRYSALIS is a noteworthy,
dramatic debut from an impressive author who has much more planned
for the future.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 7, 2011