Book review: The Portrait of Molly Dean by Katherine Kovacic

I’ve been obsessed with books set in the 1930s lately, so I was instantly intrigued by The Portrait of Molly Dean when I discovered that it’s a true murder mystery set against the background of Melbourne’s bustling art scene in 1930.

Goodreads Blurb

An unsolved murder comes to light after almost seventy years…

In 1999, art dealer Alex Clayton stumbles across a lost portrait of Molly Dean, an artist’s muse brutally slain in Melbourne in 1930. Alex buys the painting and sets out to uncover more details, but finds there are strange inconsistencies: Molly’s mother seemed unconcerned by her daughter’s violent death, the main suspect was never brought to trial despite compelling evidence, and vital records are missing. Alex enlists the help of her close friend, art conservator John Porter, and together they sift through the clues and deceptions that swirl around the last days of Molly Dean. 

Review

The Portrait of Molly Dean is based on a real unsolved murder. Molly Dean was brutally murdered in Melbourne in 1930. She was a beautiful and popular artist’s muse who was determined to break out of her complicated home life and make a name for herself as a writer but her murder was never solved and she was almost forgotten.

This novel imagines what might have happened in Molly’s last days via the fictional investigations of an astute Melbourne art dealer who snaps up Molly’s portrait in 1999 for a bargain. As Alex and her art conservator friend investigate the painting and the mystery surrounding the death of Molly Dean, they discover that there were many inconsistencies surrounding the investigation and that there are still people out there who will do whatever it takes to make sure that the truth remained hidden.

There really isn’t anything that I didn’t love about this book! Both the 1930 and 1999 timelines were full of distinctly timely and Melbourne features and I also found the art history fascinating. Molly was such an interesting character that I found myself invested in finding out what happened to her. I feel like I could have been great friends with her. And I loved Alex Clayton the sassy art dealer and will be adding the rest of the Alex Clayton art mystery series to my TBR list!

Details

Published: March 1st 2018 by Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January – February 2021

Pages: 271 pages

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Amazon AU

Amazon UK

Amazon US

About the author

Katherine Kovacic was a veterinarian but preferred training and having fun with dogs to taking their temperatures. She seized the chance to return to study and earned an MA, followed by a PhD in Art History. Katherine spends her spare time writing, dancing and teaching other people’s dogs to ride skateboards.

A research geek, Katherine is currently fired up by the history of human relationships with animals, particularly as they appear in art. Her first book, The Portrait of Molly Dean, was shortlisted for a Ned Kelly Award for best first fiction.

Katherine lives in suburban Melbourne with a Borzoi, a Scottish Deerhound and a legion of dog-fur dust bunnies.

January 2021. True Crime.

Available in all good bookshops and online (paperback, ebook, audio) including:

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Booktopia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon US)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Amazon Australia)

The Schoolgirl Strangler (Kobo)

Book Review: The Yield by Tara June Winch

The Yield by Tara June Winch

My Review

“The yield in English is the reaping, the things that man can take from the land. In the language of the Wiradjuri yield is the things you give to, the movement, the space between things: baayanha.” 

Even though The Yield is my first book review of 2021 I’m quite certain that it will be the most profound and meaningful book that I will read this year. It’s a story about the Wiradjuri people’s culture, language, family, and the intergenerational trauma of colonisation in Australia. 

When Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi finds out that he will die soon, he decides to record the language and everything that was ever remembered by his people, the Wiradjuri people from the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. He knows that if he doesn’t write everything down it will be forgotten, and he’s determined to pass it down the words of his ancestors. Through Poppy’s dictionary, we are shown an extraordinarily moving and personal insight into the customs and language of the Wiradjuri People as a whole group, as well as Poppy’s immediate Gondiwindi family. 

When Albert’s granddaughter, August, returns for his funeral after living on the other side of the world for ten years she discovers that their family home is about to be repossessed by a mining company. She is determined to make amends for the past events that led her to leave the country all those years ago by saving her family’s land. August’s story about returning to her family and rediscovering her connection to the land and their language and culture was also incredibly insightful, as well as being a gripping David versus Goliath story. 

Interspersed throughout the novel is also the story of a 1915 missionary at Massacre Plains told in the form of a serialised letter. It tells the story of Poppy and August’s ancestors who lived on the mission at that time. While I felt like this was the driest and most tedious section of the novel, it also makes a lot of sense to have this generation of the Gondiwindi family story being told by white colonisers. The voices of so many generations of First Nations Peoples have been lost because they were unable to tell their own stories and many were prevented from passing down their stories and their culture to younger generations. 

I know that I will be thinking about this book for a long time and I look forward to reading it again over the coming years. A once in a lifetime book that will change the way you think and a powerful reclamation of the Wiradjuri language. This is so important because, as the author’s note explains, Australian languages are rapidly dying out and so many essential aspects of culture are inherently tied to language.

My cat Zeus with my copy of The Yield by Tara June Winch

Blurb

Winner Miles Franklin Literary Award 2020
Winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards 2020 – for Fiction, People’s Choice and Book of the Year.
Winner Booksellers Choice Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2020
Shortlisted The Stella Prize 2020
Shortlisted Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction 2020
Shortlisted ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2020
Shortlisted Queensland Literary Awards for Fiction 2020

Knowing that he will soon die, Albert ‘Poppy’ Gondiwindi takes pen to paper. His life has been spent on the banks of the Murrumby River at Prosperous House, on Massacre Plains. Albert is determined to pass on the language of his people and everything that was ever remembered. He finds the words on the wind.

August Gondiwindi has been living on the other side of the world for ten years when she learns of her grandfather’s death. She returns home for his burial, wracked with grief and burdened with all she tried to leave behind. Her homecoming is bittersweet as she confronts the love of her kin and news that Prosperous is to be repossessed by a mining company. Determined to make amends she endeavours to save their land – a quest that leads her to the voice of her grandfather and into the past, the stories of her people, the secrets of the river.

Profoundly moving and exquisitely written, Tara June Winch’s The Yield is the story of a people and a culture dispossessed. But it is as much a celebration of what was and what endures, and a powerful reclaiming of Indigenous language, storytelling and identity. 

Details

Published: July 2nd 2019 by Penguin Random House

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January 2021

Pages: 343

Rating: 5 stars

Goodreads

Winner of Aussie historical romance novel BURNING FIELDS by Alli Sinclair @allisinclair

BurningFieldsWP
BURNING FIELDS by Alli Sinclair

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the competition to win a copy of Australian historical romance BURNING FIELDS by Alli Sinclair. I loved hearing about all of the times and places you would like to visit if you could time travel to any time or place in Australia!

Congratulations  to Janet Ryan who answered on my Facebook page that she would like to visit:

“The day the Harbour Bridge opened as it was my grandmother’s wedding day and they had to beg permission to cross the bridge before the formal opening otherwise they wouldn’t have got to the church on time. It would have been lovely to get photos of the new bridge and my Grandmother’s wedding”