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A Trace of Deceit by Bestseller @karen_odden is a Mystery Festival pick #historicalmystery #giveaway
Title: A TRACE OF DECEIT
Author: Karen Odden
Genre: Historical Mystery/Suspense
In 1875 London, twenty-year-old Annabel Rowe is a talented painter, studying at the Slade School of Art. Her brilliant older brother Edwin, a former opium user and convicted art forger, has just been released from prison, but he swears he has reformed and is working to rebuild his relationship with Annabel, who is slowly coming to trust him again. As the novel begins, Annabel goes to Edwin’s flat to find it in complete disarray, with two inspectors from Scotland Yard riffling through his belongings because Edwin has been murdered, and a priceless French painting that he was restoring for auction has been stolen. Desperate to know who Edwin was before he died—whether he had been truthful about reforming or whether he had returned to his life of crime—she vows to discover why he was killed. Together with sympathetic, clever Inspector Matthew Hallam, Annabel delves behind the glitter of the art and auction world to discover the truth about Edwin’s past and the secrets someone will kill to keep.
My work finished for the afternoon, I washed my brushes, set them bristles-end-up in the tin buckets, and hung my smock on one of the wooden hooks on the wall. Fishing in the umbrella rack, I found my own frayed black specimen, still damp from this morning. I opened it as I exited the Slade’s airy marble rotunda and braced it against the drizzle as I started up Charing Cross Road toward Edwin’s flat.
Since he’d been let out of prison, we had been meeting every other Tuesday, at his request. Usually he sent a message to my rooms on Monday evening, arranging to have dinner in a pub or chophouse somewhere near the Slade, though on one particularly pleasant day, we met for a walk in a nearby park. His manner was often subdued, and our conversation was prone to moments when both of us broke the silence at once, without the ease we’d had as children. Admittedly, I had a part in this: I kept him at some distance, for I was chary of believing whole-heartedly his claims of reform, although his recent steadiness had raised my hopes more than I let him see. But here it was Tuesday afternoon, and I hadn’t a word from him. While a part of me was prepared for him to resume his erratic ways, his missive could have been lost, and it wasn’t much out of my way to go to his rooms.
I turned off Charing Cross and walked halfway down Judson Place to the building where Edwin rented a room. It was a narrow redbrick house, with two dormer windows like eyes peering out from under a frowning brow. Once a family home, it had been divided into three flats, one on each floor. I went inside the building and started up the thinly carpeted stairs to the top, grasping the wooden banister worn smooth by years of palms and polishing cloths. My own flat, closer to the school, was on an uppermost floor as well. The stairs were a bother, especially when I had items to carry, but like Edwin, I found the light that came through upper windows better for painting. I rounded the landing, already raising my hand to knock.
Oddly, Edwin’s door stood wide open. He was nowhere to be seen, but inside his room were two strange men dressed in dark coats. Their backs were to me, and they were bent over, sifting carelessly through Edwin’s paintings stacked against the wall. The sight halted me at the threshold, my hand on the doorframe, and I felt a flare of indignation. “What are you doing?” I demanded. “Who are you?”
Even as the words burst from me, I took in the pieces of broken gilt frames on the floor, a chair flipped on its side, a long rent in the curtain that separated this room from the bedroom—and a sudden fear made me shrink back.
The men pivoted and stood upright. I am taller than average for a woman, but both of them were a full head taller than I and broad of shoulder. Their eyes examined me with peculiar acuteness, taking in every detail from my facial features to the damp hem of my dress. Perhaps they saw my alarm, for a quick look passed between them, and the elder of the two stepped forward: “Don’t be afraid, miss. I’m Chief Inspector Martin, of Scotland Yard.” He jerked his chin toward the other man. “This is Inspector Matthew Hallam.”
My heart sank, and my fright gave way to weary disappointment and vexation. It seemed I’d been right to hold my hopes in abeyance. Edwin’s resolve to live lawfully was apparently as flimsy as ever. Given the state of his room, there had probably been a dire urgency to his departure.
“Good afternoon, miss.” Mr. Hallam was perhaps five-and-twenty, with wavy brown hair and a countenance that would have made a handsome portrait. “Are you a friend of Mr. Rowe’s?”
I suppressed a sigh. “I’m his sister.”
The chief inspector’s head tipped forward. “Is your name Annabel?”
That made me start. “Yes. How did you know?”
“Miss.” Inspector Hallam’s measured voice drew my gaze back to him. “When did you last see him?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“And you haven’t heard from him since?”
“No,” I replied, wrapping the folds of my umbrella around its ribs. “What has he done?”
Another significant look between them. Clearly they were reluctant to shock me. “It’s all right,” I assured them. “You can say it.”
The inspector’s expression softened. “I’m afraid he’s gone, miss.”
“I’ve gathered that much,” I said resignedly. Edwin had likely taken up gambling again and run off rather than face his debtors.
“Miss?” The inspector seemed to await a response.
I knotted the umbrella’s ties to hold it closed. “I assume he owes someone money, and you’re here to recover what you can.”
The chief inspector spoke up, his voice gruff: “I’m afraid you misunderstand. Your brother is dead.”
My eyes flicked back to the younger inspector. He saw I hadn’t grasped the meaning of his gentler word, and he winced in regret and sympathy.
For a moment, everything was unnaturally silent.
I reached for the nearest chair and sat down, averting my face. All I could feel was my heart thudding in my chest.
Years ago, as a child, I fell out of a tree and landed on my back. I had the sensation of my entire rib cage flattening forcibly to the thickness of a washboard, and as I lay there, staring up at the leafy branches, I remember thinking, I shall never be able to breathe again. This is how it feels to die.
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What makes your featured book a must-read?
I write books that give women characters some power over their own destiny but still hew close to what the Victorian period realistically allowed, so I based Annabel upon two real women artists who studied at the Slade in the 1870s. This is more than a murder mystery; it’s a book about a young woman in search of the truth—not just about her gifted brother’s death but about herself, her flawed memories, and her entire family of origin. Inspired by my work at Christie’s Auction House in New York, I set this mystery in the sparkling 1870s art world, with the sinister elements such as forgery and corruption in the shadows. Readers who want mystery and suspense tinged with romance and plenty of authentic detail about art and Victorian England will love this novel.
Historical Novel Society Review says, “This thrilling, action-packed story [is] an absolute delight to read."
Booklist said, in a starred review, that A Trace of Deceit “injects a refreshing level of complexity, both in character development and plotting, into what one typically expects to find in historical cozies. This will appeal to fans of Victorian mysteries, as well as those interested in art history.”
Publishers Weekly says, "Odden … peoples her setting with fully realized and intriguing characters. This book will delight readers who like their mysteries cloaked in well-researched history."
Susan Elia MacNeal (New York Times bestselling author of the award-winning Maggie Hope mysteries) wrote, "Fans of Anne Perry, Deanna Rayborn, and Tasha Alexander will root for Karen Odden’s newest heroine, Annabel Rowe—aspiring painter and now amateur sleuth—investigating the murder of her art forger brother. The novel's a delightful mix of mystery, history, and romance, served with a delicious helping of lush period detail, while chemistry between Annabel and the investigating Scotland Yard detective add spice to the adventure."
A Trace of Deceit was chosen as the 2019 Best Mystery at the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards; and in 2021 it was shortlisted for Best Mystery by RUSA, a division of the American Library Association.
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Karen Odden received her PhD in English literature from New York University, writing her dissertation on Victorian literature and history. She taught at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and edited for the academic journal Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge UP). Her debut novel, A Lady in the Smoke (2016, Random House), was a USA Today bestseller. A Dangerous Duet (2018, Harper Collins) and A Trace of Deceit (2019, Harper Collins) have won awards for historical fiction and mystery. Her fourth novel, Down a Dark River, about a bare-knuckles boxer turned inspector at Scotland Yard, is forthcoming in November.
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