The Lover's Portrait
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 1
by Jennifer S. Alderson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
A portrait holds the key to recovering a cache of looted artwork, secreted away during World War II, in this captivating historical art thriller set in the 1940s and present-day Amsterdam.
When a Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.
After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later.
When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it.
Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.
Awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion by indieBRAG's readers in March 2019
Chosen as Chill with a Book’s January 2018 Book of the Month and winner of a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award
One of TripFiction's 10 Favorite Books set in Amsterdam
Silver Cup winner in Rosie's Book Review Team 2017 Awards, Mystery category
Readers’ Favorite 5 star medal
One of The Displaced Nation magazine’s Top 36 Expat Fiction Picks of 2016
One of Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine's Recommended Reads for April 2017.
Set in present day and wartime Amsterdam, this captivating thriller is not just about stolen paintings, but also the lives that were stolen. This art history mystery also describes the plight of homosexuals and Jewish artists in Europe during World War II, as well as the complexities inherent to the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Lover's Portrait is Book One in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The amateur sleuth mysteries in this series can be read in any order.
Rituals of the Dead
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 2
A museum researcher must solve a decades-old murder before she becomes the killer’s next victim in this riveting dual timeline thriller set in Papua and the Netherlands.
Agats, Dutch New Guinea (Papua), 1961: While collecting Asmat artifacts for a New York museum, American anthropologist Nick Mayfield stumbles upon a smuggling ring organized by high-ranking members of the Dutch colonial government and the Catholic Church. Before he can alert the authorities, he vanishes in a mangrove swamp, never to be seen again.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2018: While preparing for an exhibition of Asmat artifacts in a Dutch ethnographic museum, researcher Zelda Richardson finds Nick Mayfield’s journal in a long-forgotten crate. Before Zelda can finish reading the journal, her housemate is brutally murdered and ‘Give back what is not yours’ is scrawled on their living room wall.
Someone wants ancient history to stay that way—and believes murder is the surest way to keep the past buried.
Can she solve a sixty-year-old mystery before decades of deceit, greed, and retribution cost Zelda her life?
Awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion by indieBRAG's readers in December 2018
One of Amy's Bookshelf Reviews' Top 20 Books of 2018
Winner of a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award, June 2018
A Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine’s Recommended Reads for March 2018
New Apple’s 2018 Summer Book Awards, Official Selection Mystery/Thriller category
BookLife Prize for Fiction 2018, Mystery/Thriller category, rating 8.50
Art, religion and history collide in this edge-of-your-seat museum thriller, Book Two of the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
Marked For Revenge
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 3
An exhilarating adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, Luxembourg, and Turkey about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance.
When researcher Zelda Richardson begins working at a local museum, she doesn’t expect to get entangled with an art theft, knocked unconscious by a forger, threatened by the mob, or stalked by drug dealers.
To make matters worse, a Croatian gangster is convinced Zelda knows where a cache of recently pilfered paintings is. She must track down an international gang of art thieves and recover the stolen artwork in order to save those she loves most.
The trouble is, Zelda doesn’t know where to look. Teaming up with art detective Vincent de Graaf may be her only hope at salvation.
The trail of clues leads Zelda and Vincent on a pulse-pounding race across Europe to a dramatic showdown in Turkey that may cost them their lives.
Awarded a Chill with a Book Readers' Award in June 2019
A Women Writers, Women's Books magazine Recommended Reads in June 2019
One of Amy's Bookshelf Reviews Top 20 Reads of 2019
Placed at #30 in ReadFreely's Top 50 Indie Reads of 2019
Chosen as Chill with a Book's June 2019 Cover of the Month
Marked for Revenge is the third book in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
The Vermeer Deception
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 4
An art historian finds – then loses – a portrait by Johannes Vermeer in this thrilling art mystery set in Munich, Heidelberg, and Amsterdam.
When Zelda Richardson investigates a new lead about a missing portrait by Johannes Vermeer, no one expects her to actually find the painting in a retired art dealer’s home in Munich, Germany. Not her parents visiting from America; her boss, private detective Vincent de Graaf; or the rightful owner of the Nazi-looted artwork.
However, Zelda’s jubilation turns to horror when she arrives to pick up the portrait and finds the art dealer dead and several frames smoldering in his fireplace.
Was the Vermeer a fake and its ‘discovery’ a cruel joke played on a Nazi victim? The Munich police, Zelda’s family, and Vincent certainly think so.
Yet the art dealer’s best friend believes he was murdered and the real Vermeer stolen by an underground network of art looters, one established during World War II and still active today. The problem is, no one believes him – except Zelda.
Zelda soon finds herself in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with immoral art collectors, corrupt dealers, and an all-to-real killer who wants her to stop searching.
Can Zelda uncover the truth about the Vermeer before she is painted out of the picture permanently?
The Vermeer Deception is Book 4 in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
**On Sale for only $2.99!**
Hi! I am an American expat currently living in Amsterdam. After traveling extensively around Asia, Oceania, and Central America, I moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. When not writing, you can find me in a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning my next research trip.
My love of travel, art, and culture inspires my award-winning Zelda Richardson Mystery series, Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries, and standalone stories.
The Lover’s Portrait (Book One) is a suspenseful whodunit about Nazi-looted artwork that transports readers to WWII and present-day Amsterdam. Art, religion, and anthropology collide in Rituals of the Dead (Book Two), a thrilling artifact mystery set in Papua New Guinea and the Netherlands. My pulse-pounding adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey— Marked for Revenge (Book Three)—is a story about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance.
The Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries are a funny new series featuring tour guide and amateur sleuth, Lana Hansen. Join Lana as she leads tourists and readers to fascinating cities around the globe on intriguing adventures that, unfortunately for Lana, often turn deadly. Book One— Death on the Danube —takes Lana to Budapest for a New Year’s trip. Can Lana figure out who murdered her fellow tour guide before she too ends up floating in the Danube? Death by Baguette: A Valentine's Day Murder in Paris (Books Two) will be released in February 2020, and Book 3 in May 2020.
I am also the author of Down and Out in Kathmandu , Holiday Gone Wrong , and Notes of a Naive Traveler .
Connect with me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or my website.
I have also started a group for readers and writers of travel fiction and non-fiction - Travel By Book. We are a promotion and discussion group active on Facebook with a growing presence here on Goodreads.
Thanks for stopping by!
Inspired by Breaking News: Marked for Revenge
It seems as if every time I check the arts and culture news, an audacious art-related crime perpetrated by an underground criminal organization tops the stories. The thefts run the gambit from ridiculously simple robberies involving abandoned ladders, misplaced bicycles, and open windows, to well-planned getaways involving speed boats, hang gliders, and helicopters. The articles about these crimes often read as fiction.
As a mystery author passionate about art history, these articles provide tons of inspiration for future novels. Nevertheless, it took me months to convince myself it was okay to uses these breaking news stories as inspiration for my latest novel, Marked for Revenge: An Art Heist Thriller.
Part of me was concerned I would not be able to ‘top’ the news or that my novel would end up being a regurgitation of actual crimes. I admit, it proved extraordinary difficult to come up with thefts that haven’t happened! Every time I thought up a ‘unique’ new robbery, I would inevitably read about a similar crime in the paper, days later.
Inevitably, I realized I had to stop checking the news and simply write what worked best for my story. There was no point in worrying about whether or not the theft had already been ‘done’ or if mine were brazen enough.
Another part was me was afraid that I would be dating Marked for Revenge by basing it on recent events. In the first two books in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series, I specifically avoided using current news reports and events as the basis for my novels because I was concerned the stories would become out-of-date too quickly if I did.
The first book in the series, The Lover’s Portrait, is a dual timeline mystery about two women who claim the same piece of Nazi looted artwork. When I wrote it in 2013, I used as basis for my fictitious restitution cases several real and quite controversial ones that was resolved in 2008. Only after my novel’s publication in 2016, did a new spate of restitution cases hit the news – making the book unintentionally actual. Since then, legislation in several European countries and the United States has become more accommodating to victims of Nazi looting. Nowadays, reports about new restitution cases seem to appear weekly.
The same thing happened with book two, Rituals of the Dead, a story about the restitution of colonial artifacts from Western ethnographic museums. When I wrote the novel, Western museums returning artifacts was not on the order. In fact, most of the articles and posts I wrote to promote the book’s release were explanations about the issues museums and former colonies faced. I was terrified no one would understand what the point of my book was because it was not frequently covered in the media. Yet around the same time the novel came out, several indigenous groups and developing nations in Oceania, Africa, and South America brought lawsuits against Western museums, demanding the return of art and objects taken from their countries. These claims made the international news and stimulated more countries to take similar action. Now that France, the Netherlands, and Germany have all pledged to return colonial-looted artifacts, restitution cases involving artifacts are just as frequent as those concerning Nazi-looted art.
With Marked for Revenge, I faced a new challenge. These kinds of audacious art thefts are frequently in the news right now, but what about in ten years?
For example, if museums begin using a new chip-tagging system that is currently being developed and tested for general usage, the kinds of thefts I describe in this novel will be virtually impossible. Sure, it may take ten years or more for this tagging technology to take hold – if it indeed works as the experts think it will – but if it does, my novel will be unintentionally out-of-date.
Given the sheer number of reports about these kinds of art thefts, and the inability of police and other crime-fighting organizations to solve them all, I don’t believe this will be a problem that will go away anytime soon. The fact that there are so many popular books, films, and television series about art crimes already out there, also played a role in my decision to go ahead and use breaking news as my inspiration.
Ultimately, I decided it was worth risking becoming passé in order to write about a topic I am personally fascinated by. Based on the incredibly positive reviews posted so far, it was the right decision!
My previous novels in the series were inspired by old new stories and my imagination as to what might happen.
Not trying to bank on breaking news. In fact it makes me nervous because it might change later and shift the other way. With this in mind, I was worried if I used recent thefts as the basis for my new book,
If may sound farfetched, but it was a consideration.
Gangs of criminal organizations and lucky thieves abound.
to coming up with fictitious crimes! [The hardest part of writing this novel was
writing about this connection between the Eastern European criminal underworld and Western art museums as the basis for my latest novel, Marked for Revenge, was an obvious choice.
And yet, it took me months to convince myself it was okay to uses these breaking news stories as inspiration for my novels.
In the first two books in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series, I avoided using actual news reports and events as the basis for my novels because I was concerned they would become dated too quickly if I did.
The first book in the series, The Lover’s Portrait , is a dual timeline mystery about Nazi looted artwork. I wrote it in 2013 and used as basis for my fictitious restitution case, a real and quite controversial one that was resolved in 2008. Only after my novel’s publication did a new spate of restitution cases hit the news – making the book unintentionally actual. Since legislation in several European countries and the US has recently changed to be more accommodating to victims of Nazi looting, reports about new court cases seem to appear weekly.
The same thing happened with Rituals of the Dead, a story about the restitution of colonial artifacts from western ethnographic museums. When I wrote the novel, Western museums returning artifacts was not on the order. In fact, most of my articles and posts written to promote the book were explanations about the issues museums and former colonies faced. I was terrified no one would understand what the point of my book was. Yet months after the novel came out, several indigenous groups and developing nations in Oceania, Africa, and South America brought cases against Western museums demanding the return of art and objects taken from their countries. Claims that made the international news. Since French president Marcroon announced that claimed objects should be returned, and the Netherlands and Germany also pledged to return colonial-looted artifacts, new restitution cases dominate the arts and culture news.
Yet again, my novel became actual without my even trying.
Authors, have you faced a similar dilemma when brainstorming your work? How did you resolve it?
Thank you, Mysteristas, for sharing my article with your readers!
"Art-related, Dutch goodies" prize package, includes:
- Playmobil toy of Vermeer's The Milkmaid (from the Rijksmuseum)
- A notebook featuring Vermeer's The Milkmaid on the cover
- A tulip pen
- A fabric bag from a local Amsterdam cafe
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