Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Empress of Tempera

The Empress of Tempera by Alex Dolan
Diversion Publishing: 9/13/16
eBook review copy; 282 pages
ISBN-13: 9781682302972

The Empress of Tempera by Alex Dolan is a highly recommended thriller/mystery set in the art world of NYC and challenges the value and meaning of art.

In the opening of The Empress of Tempera, Katie Novis legally changes her name to Paire Anjou. Paire, who is attending the Manhattan School of Art and Design, MSAD, adopts her new name In an attempt to distance herself from her past spent in Maine being tormented by classmates over a terrible act her parents committed. Now, legally Paire and the girlfriend of an up and coming graffiti/guerilla type artist, Derek Rosewood, she is headed to the Fern Gallery where Rosenwood has an opening exhibit being installed. Outside the gallery window is an old man sobbing, staring through the window. He fatally stabs himself in front of Paire while staring at the painting "The Empress Xiao Zhe Yi, Seated" by Chinese artist Qi. It is the only known work by Qi on exhibit anywhere, and may be the only known existing work by him.

Paire ends up getting a job at the Fern Gallery where she is obsessed with the painting along with the many others who stop to stare at it. Rosenwood's wealthy benefactor is the supremely  obnoxious Abel Kasson. Kasson, who arranged for the exhibit at the gallery, is also obsessed with the painting but for other reasons. Paire begins to accompany Rosenwood on some of his illegal guerilla installations, which eventually leads them to even more dangerous stunts.

The writing is good and the plot moves quickly after a slow start. Although some of the characters seem more one dimensional caricatures than flesh and blood people, Dolan sets up the story, describing what captivates and intrigues connoisseurs about Qi and "The Empress Xiao Zhe Yi, Seated," and then keeps the action moving swiftly to an almost inevitable conclusion. The risks people will take for art, to create it or possess it, is captured. Dolan does make a few leaps in the plot and leaves explaining what Paire's parents actually did until the very end, where it loses it's impact after all the other action that has taken place. Still, The Empress of Tempera will grab your attention and hold it to the end.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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