Everything about The Black Painting was so intriguing, and I couldn’t wait to get into this mystery!
An old-money East Coast family faces the suspicious death of its patriarch and the unsolved theft of a Goya painting rumored to be cursed…
There were four cousins in the Morse family: perfect Kenny, the preppy West Coast lawyer; James, the shy but brilliant medical student; his seductive, hard-drinking sister Audrey; and Teresa, youngest and most fragile, haunted by the fear that she has inherited the madness that possessed her father.
Their grandfather summons them to his mansion at Owl’s Point. None of them has visited the family estate since they were children, when a prized painting disappeared: a self-portrait by Goya, rumored to cause madness or death upon viewing. Afterward, the family split apart amid the accusations and suspicions that followed its theft.
Any hope that their grandfather planned to make amends evaporates when Teresa arrives to find the old man dead, his horrified gaze pinned upon the spot where the painting once hung. As the family gathers and suspicions mount, Teresa hopes to find the reasons behind her grandfather’s death and the painting’s loss. But to do so she must uncover ugly family secrets and confront those who would keep them hidden.
I’ve been in the mood for something different lately and thought a good mystery might do the trick. I haven’t read any works by Neil Olson, but the unique cover caught my eye and after reading the synopsis, this looked to be the perfect book for me. I always enjoy reading stories dealing with art, and how could you go wrong with a stolen painting rumored to have demons? The Black Painting is a rather mysterious story of a highly dysfunctional family seeking truth in both Alfred Morse’s death and his missing Goya painting, stolen years ago and supposedly at the root of the family’s demise.
Olson definitely created some very unique and complex characters in this story. Each of the family members were all so intriguing and strange, and all had their own tale of a very complicated relationship with their grandfather. The story was mostly told from Teresa’s perspective, but also by Dave, the investigator from the original theft of the painting years ago and brought back onto the case after Alfred’s death by his son, Philip, to finally find the culprit. As the main characters in the story, Teresa and Dave were pretty humdrum and odd, but it was interesting to see the different perspectives from one of the family members along with an outsider’s point of view. It really wasn’t until they teamed up towards the end that they really came to life for me.
There were a lot of details surrounding all of the characters and how their individual roles fit into this complex story. They were amusing, and although I did enjoy the banter between them, I really struggled with feeling a connection with them. A lot of the true character depth came to fruition towards the end of the story, which didn’t allow for much time to find them relatable or establish many real feelings about them either way. I think that more character development with some of the key characters earlier on would have definitely helped with my indifference towards them.
The mystery behind the painting and the family was very intriguing, and I really wanted to know the answers from the beginning to the end. Olson did a really good job at creating this complex storyline, and I really liked the story itself. However, I’m not 100% sure that he conveyed it very clearly to the reader. There were moments where I felt really excited and into the story, and then it just seemed rather lackluster. The pace was a bit slow, and the storyline was choppy and confusing to follow at times. I would suggest that some of this was due to the formatting, which was distracting and took away from the overall flow of the story. Although there wasn’t much romance, the few sexy scenes were also a bit odd, as I found myself a few pages into one and didn’t even realize I was in one at all!
The Black Painting was definitely an interesting read, and the ending was one that I would not have guessed. I just feel like overall, the story had some loose ends and needed a bit more polish to make it shine. It had a lot of potential and truly deserved it!
ARC kindly provided by Harlequin, via NetGalley, in exchange of an honest review
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Neil Olson is the author of THE ICON, a novel of art theft and family intrigue, and the play DEALERS. His second novel, THE BLACK PAINTING, concerning the unsolved theft of a haunted self-portrait by Goya, will be published in January 2018. He lives in New York City with his wife and cat, and works in the publishing industry.
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