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. 


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!


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

Source: Own copy

Read: Paperback, January – February 2021

Pages: 271 pages

Rating: 5 stars


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)

Alice in Wonderland at ACMI

I was amazed by The Alice in Wonderland Exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) this weekend. My partner and I had a blast exploring this wonderfully interactive exhibition and fully embraced our inner children for the afternoon.

Once we fell down the rabbit hole we received our Lost Map of Wonderland to help us guide our way through Wonderland and crawled through a deceptively small doorway that took us into the Hallway of Doors. Our maps had a cool feature that allowed us to unlock extra content throughout the exhibition when we found the top of the Alice symbol on our guides.

Once we found our way out of the topsy turvy Hallway of Doors we made our way through each of the areas of the exhibition full of amazing artifacts and information about the many screen adaptations of Alice in Wonderland. You are able to touch, or even get inside, several of the exhibition pieces and there are screens showing different scenes throughout.

Through the Hallway of Doors and into the Pool of Tears

A gorgeous Red Queen costume

Stuck in the White Rabbit’s House

Disney poster

The most exciting feature of the exhibition for us was the interactive Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, which just about blew our minds! The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party is a five minute immersive experience that made us feel as though we really had gone through the looking glass and fell down the white rabbit’s hole to Wonderland. There was quite a long queue to join the Tea Party Experience, but the friendly ACMI guides were very efficient at keeping the line moving and letting everybody know what’s happening. It certainly didn’t take as long as it first appeared, and this experience was more than worth the wait.

The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party



On the way out of the exhibition we were typically distracted by all of the beautiful Alice in Wonderland items that were available for purchase and we absolutely couldn’t resist getting ourselves a lovely Wonderland themed tea cup and saucer from the T2 X ACMI range.

The Lost Map of Wonderland

My new Alice in Wonderland tea cup by T2 for ACMI

If you are looking for something fun and educational to do with your kids or an adult looking to be a kid for the day, the Alice in Wonderland Exhibition at ACMI is a Melbourne activity that you don’t want to miss. It’s easy to get to at ACMI’s central Federation Square location, and it is a rare activity that really does have something of interest for all ages. Check out the ACMI website for more details about extra Alice in Wonderland events, including  late nights, low sensory and descriptive tours.