Title: The Paris Secret
Author: Karen Swan
Genre: Fiction/ Art History/ Romance
Source: Kindle Recommendation
Favourite Quote: “They crossed the river, and the wide boulevards and bountiful banks of flowers planted in strict formations along the Jardins des Tuileries had been replaced by labyrinthine streets that looped and twisted back on themselves, modest fountains or stand-alone trees populating tiny, dusty squares, metal grilles pushed back against shop walls. The roads narrowed to become one-way only and racks of bikes and scooters littered the kerbs”
When ‘The Paris Secret’ popped up onto my recommendations list on my Kindle, I did not hesitate to purchase it, it didn’t even matter to me what the story was about so much. Paris holds a special place in my heart, and anything that is set in Paris doesn’t need to convince me twice. Of course I was not disappointed by this story and it quickly made my favourites list!
Flora Sykes is a professional fine art associate at Beaumont’s Fine Art Agents, who spends more time in the air flying to destinations for her clients than on the ground with her friends and family. She is work driven with her vast knowledge of historical paintings as well as the clients that deals them, she is known throughout the art world for her passion, expertise and experience, Flora feels more at home at auction houses than anywhere else.
A new contract has her and her employer Angus, flying out to Paris to the Haussmann townhouse of Lillian and Jacques Vermeil, a respectable wealthy family with a vast connection into the art world. The family have just discovered that they own an apartment in Paris which has been untouched for 73 years but that they are not allowed to enter the property until the death of Jacques mother, Magda, who refuses to tell them why.
Lillian instructs Flora and Angus to visit the property and provide them with an inventory of their findings. Expecting the premises to be empty based on the circumstances related to its discovery, they instead uncover hundreds of paintings as well as additional art pieces within the apartment which vary from sketches by Picasso, Dali, Faucheux and a masterpiece by Renoir. With the collection being more extensive than expected, it takes Flora days to even complete the basic inventory before presenting their findings back to Lillian and Jacques.
“Flora felt her breath quicken. She looked around the room. Even apart from the pieces littering the table, there must be another five dozen paintings stacked in piles against the walls. The sheer volume of art and artefacts was staggering. There was far more, surely, than could ever have been hung on the walls here; the apartment was not grand or built on the lofty scale of the Haussmann town houses. What were they all doing here?”
In order to assess, value and sell the discovered piece of art, they first needed to verify each piece, which they put the entire project into Flora’s surprised hands. Determined not to let the Vermeil family down, Flora found more than she bargained for with further secrets from the family’s past that were once laid to rest.
The more she dug into the history of the paintings, the less enthusiastic she was about being involved with the family. Even more so when their boisterous disobedient daughter, Natascha, kidnaps her in order to secure the key to the confidential apartment to look at the extent of her family’s inheritance. They realise that she was actually given the key to apartment 6, not apartment 8, which has also been abandoned, only this apartment holds just one painting in the bedroom, far from the extent of the hidden treasures next door. Flora is forced to open apartment 8 for Natascha who immediately starts smoking and beings to mishandle the piece of art, Flora quickly loses her patience which gets her into even more trouble when Natascha’s brother Xavier turns up and finds them both in a fight.
“Something mercurial darted through his eyes, like silver fish in a dark pool, and she knew she’d crossed a line from which there was no turning back. None of this was her fault, but she wasn’t helping herself now either; it was as though she had stepped outside herself in their presence and become someone wild.”
The additional hidden apartment causes more confusion to the history of the inventory. It didn’t take long for Flora to discover that the entire collection came from a prominent dealer Franz Von Taschelt during the war who collaborated with the Nazis, a connection that she did not want associated with her client. Even worse, there is no evidence that the collection was brought on from Von Taschelt, which meant that the Vermeil family could not prove ownership with the documents lost in the midst of the war.
When word gets out of the family’s connection with Von Traschelt, Flora, the extensive art collection and the family move to the south of France, Antibes, to stay with Magda. With Magda blaming the discovery of her past on Flora, Xavier and his cold perplexing stares and Natascha with her clear raving hatred for her, she finds herself caught in the middle of a family feud with no easy way out.
The book is absolutely wonderful, it’s in depth knowledge of the art world is incredible, Karen Swan has clearly done her research. I love the way she places the detailed setting of each scene, whether it’s in the dusty abandoned apartment, the streets of Paris or the town Saint-Paul-de-Vence, you really feel like you’re there.
“The cab pulled to a stop in the centre of town, outside a cafe, its tables shaded with a rattan sunroof, ivy creeping over the walls in sticky tendrils and a giant watermill set into the side of the building. Flora paid and jumped out, allowing herself to be swept along with the tide of tourists all heading down a narrow street, past the old covered flower market where an elderly woman was sitting on a deckchair, fruit laid out on trays before her. Opposite was a large pedestrianized square where several games of petanque were being played, surrounded on three sides by cafes, their tables full thanks to the blistering heat, and people sitting and resting on the low wall.”
Swan doesn’t need to delve too far into each character as the clear expressions and brief conversations tell you everything you need to know, whether it’s Angus and his excited personality, Xavier and his intense reserved expressions, Noah and his easy going determined charm or Iles and her spirited carefree nature who lights up any room she walks into. She’s managed to tie many contrasting characters into a lovely bow with a pleasing ending. I feel like I want to go back and study art history to be surrounded by the world Flora is in… maybe with an apartment in Paris too.
Somewhere along the cobbled streets of Paris, an apartment lies thick with dust and secrets: full of priceless artworks hidden away for decades.
High-flying fine art agent Flora from London, more comfortable with the tension of a million-pound auction than a cosy candlelit dinner for two, is called in to assess these suddenly discovered treasures. As an expert in her field, she must trace the history of each painting and discover who has concealed them for so long.
Thrown in amongst the glamorous Vermeil family as they move between Paris and Antibes, Flora begins to discover that things aren’t all that they seem, while back at home her own family is recoiling from a seismic shock. The terse and brooding Xavier Vermeil seems intent on forcing Flora out of his family’s affairs – but just what is he hiding?