Quickie book review #3 Melbourne murder re-imagined

KATHERINE KOVACIC – The Portrait of Molly Dean

“But now as thoughts of murder and missing files chase each other around my head, I realise something: I’m completely hooked.”

Alex Clayton is a Melbourne art dealer, with a strong hunch that a portrait of a woman who was murdered in the 1930s will fare her well come resale time. As she sets about finding out more about the subject of the portrait, Molly Dean, she is sucked into a tale that leads her deeper and deeper to expose the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

The first Alex Clayton mystery novel by Kovacic re-tells the real-life story of Melbourne woman Mary “Molly” Dean, who was brutally murdered in the 1930s in St Kilda. She uses fictional characters and motives to reimagine what might have happened.

This is possible, because the case remains unsolved to this very day. Nothing spikes interest like an unsolved murder, right? Just ask the creators of all those successful crime podcasts. There is clever interplay between the world of Molly Dean’s 1930s in the days and weeks leading up to her death, and the ‘current’ 1999 day of art dealer Alex Clayton.

Gripes: Not many. I chuckled at the convenient entrance of some people in the story to allow Alex to re-hash the details with someone else, i.e. her mother calling her.

Not a gripe, but amazed to find the words sanitiser and toilet paper within the first 6 pages of each other, and I kid you not, corona is on page 85… This was published in 2018. 😮

Pros: Cleverly executed, I mean you know the ending, well that of Molly Dean’s anyway as you begin to read… yet knowing this and still wanting to know what happened? Well, it’s crime genre, and you have to know who done it, even if it is a fictional whodunnit, right? Despite not being a major art buff and art is definitely a dominant theme, I was hooked early on.

I also loved the nod to various Melbourne locations. We’re taken to places such as Luna Park and Flinders Street Station, and let’s face it in this day of lockdown we can live vicariously, right? Albert Park Lake, Toorak, and inner-city Melbourne are all made mention of.

Molly never got her closure, she still hasn’t in real life, so it’s a kind tribute when people try to settle it for her. When we recreate the past, however fictional, we try to work things out for the sake of those involved, but more so for ourselves. It brings a peace and closure to the story, and provides a voice for those that can speak no more.

For mystery and crime buffs, you can find out more about Molly Dean if you google podcasts and books on the subject.

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