I think my book slump is over. I was struggling for awhile so I decided to re-read an Anne Stuart book as she's one of my favorite authors. I was hoping for a jump start and it worked because I read two books that have been sitting on my kindle for a month!
Also, I got to hear the fabulous Maeve Higgins on NPR and about died from her quips on Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me. Apparently urinal is pronounced differently in other parts of the world and now I know.
Title: The Woman in the Blue Cloak
Author: Deon Meyer
Page Number: 160 pages (ebook)
Genre: fiction, mystery, thriller
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Early on a May morning in the depth of South Africa's winter, a woman's naked body, washed in bleach, is discovered on a stone wall beside the N2 highway at the top of Sir Lowry's Pass, some thirty-five miles [≈ height of the highest mountain on earth, Mount Everest]from Cape Town. The local investigation stalls, so the case is referred to Captain Benny Griessel and his colorful partner Vaughn Cupido of the Hawks--the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations.
The woman proves to be Alicia Lewis, an expert in old Dutch Masters paintings specializing in the recovery of valuable lost art. Discovering the two men she had contacted before coming to South Africa reveals what she was seeking--a rare painting by Carel Fabritius, Rembrandt's finest student, not seen since it disappeared from Delft in 1654. But how Lewis died, why, and at whose hand shocks even the two veteran detectives.
The Woman in the Blue Cloak is a compact jewel of a thriller, filled with Deon Meyer's earthy dialogue, clever plotting, and the memorable characters that have peopled all of Deon Meyer's award-winning novels.
This is another book I received from the publisher, via Netgalley. I was unfamiliar with Meyer and the Benny Griessel series. I was pretty psyched for the art aspect of the book and was excited to get it.
The book is set in South Africa, and perhaps even translated (I'm not sure, I think it is). I've actually never read a book set in South Africa and I'm not as familiar with the political and current scene there. Which is kinda sad on my end. I think we covered apartheid in school and that was it. Yikes.
As such, I spent longer than I'd like to admit on Wikipedia looking up the HAWKS and then falling down the rabbit hole. I know a tiny bit more about South Africa now...but still lack a lot of knowledge.
The novella begins with a bus full of people finding a dead body on the side of a bridge, calling the police in to begin an investigation. The woman's body has been bleached, making evidence scarce. Eventually the case ends up with Benny Griessel and his partner, Vaughn Cupido, who are members of the Hawks. The Hawks are South Africa's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI). I took it as the same as Scotland Yard, the FBI or the Federales but I could be wrong.
Benny is in the process of looking for an engagement ring for his future bride (a former singer) and he wants it to be brilliant so she can show it off. In order to get the best bang for his bucks, he heads to a pawnshop owned by a semi-disreputable man who lets Benny know about people who have been coming into his shop with paintings featuring a woman and a blue cloak. Whilst this is an oddity, it isn't illegal and Benny is focused on the ring.
Eventually Benny and Vaughn identify the dead woman as an American ex-pat who lives in the United Kingdom. The woman is named Alicia Lewis and had worked for the Art Loss Registry and then another company in London called Restore. Benny ends up calling Alicia's friend (Tracy Williams) in London to learn more about why Alicia traveled to South Africa.
As an aside, I don't think Restore is a real company but the Art Loss Registry is a real company and is a database for missing or stolen art.
Alicia has traveled to South Africa in search of a painting by Carel Fabritius, a pupil of Rembrandt. She had hired a private detective and talked to a professor from the local University in her attempt to track the painting down. Benny and Vaughn talk to these two men, the hotel and car rental employees and eventually they manage to track down the family rumored to have the painting. The painting ends up being of a woman in a blue cloak (hence the issues at the pawn shop, the title and the cover).
I thought it was a nice short mystery, which could have been longer but that's just me hungry for a good art mystery. I thought the writing style was fun, which made it easier to read. It was fast, to the point and not loaded down with unneeded red herrings.
As I'm not as educated on South African history or politics, I probably missed some of the undercurrents from the book but that's totally on me.
The only thing that kept me from loving every aspect of the book was the flashbacks to Delft in an unknown time. That was confusing because I'm still not sure why this person was running or who exactly they were running from. Otherwise it was a fast paced mystery.
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