Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Rembrandt Secret by Alex Connor

This story begins in the House of Corrections in Gouda, Holland in 1651, where Rembrandt’s mistress resides at the behest of her lover who has grown irritated by her insistence he keep his promise to marry her.

Geertje Dircx, having failed in her attempt to sue him for breach of promise, decides to exact her revenge by writing down the truth of hers and Rembrandt’s son, who, she claims, painted many of the master’s works and passed them off at his own to satisfy his greed.

In present day London, these letters have found their way into the possession of Owen Zeigler, an art dealer fallen on hard times who has too much integrity to use such damning evidence of Rembrandt’s duplicitous character to ruin his fellow art dealers. A situation which is bound to happen if some of the master’s works are subsequently declared as fakes. Or would he?

Then three people are killed, the first victim forced to swallow stones, the second is Owen Ziegler, who is whipped to death, and a third stabbed in the heart. These deaths are not connected, except by Owen's son Marshall who sees the manner of death resembles Rembrandt's paintings.

Then someone sends Marshall the Rembrandt letters in the post – letters that have been authenticated by the first victim – and through naivete or ignorance, Marshall unwittingly  puts others in danger by telling them about the letters, one of whom is his ex-wife, Georgia: the woman he still loves.

Marshall doesn’t understand the passion of possession his father experienced over these ancient letters written by a shunned woman, but when a fourth victim dies horribly, he decides the killings must stop.  His search for the culprits and the truth, take him from London, to Amsterdam and New York in a blind but frantic search for who is responsible. Then there is the question, what to do with the letters? Reveal them to the world and ruin Rembrandt’s reputation, or keep them hidden so as not to risk the crash of the art world?

Not knowing whom he can trust, but intent on protecting everyone who knows about the letters, Marshall tries to make sense of a world he knows nothing about. An elite, closed world populated with people who think nothing of cheating each other and the public. People like his father?

Although this is not strictly an historical novel, I wanted to include this one in my reviews as I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ms Connor’s research is meticulous and she delves into the artist’s life with fascinating details that make the story even more compelling.

Marshall Ziegler’s fast paced search for the truth, and his need to understand the world his father loved, make this a fascinating story where no one is quite what they seem and no one knows who the villains or the heroes really are.

Geertje Dircx’s personal account includes her love for her son who became ‘Rembrandt’s Monkey’.  Her story is so tragic and moving, and based as it was on real events, I could not help sympathising with her fate and the harsh treatment meted out by her lover. It horrified me how much power men had over women in those times, when speculation, rumour and lies could get a person imprisoned for a minor transgression with no right of appeal.

This book is an excellent read, and I won’t be able to look at a Rembrandt now without a chill running up my spine.

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