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and the wide boulevards and bountiful banks of flowers planted in strict formations along the Jardins des Tuileries had been replaced by labyrinthine streets that looped and twisted back on themselves, modest fountains or stand-alone trees populating tiny, dusty squares, metal grilles pushed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”
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. 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 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 a huge secret which may ruin the family’s reputation within the art world.
“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?”
Paris holds a special place in my heart so I wasn’t at all surprised that I’d come to love this story full of history, art, romance and mystery in the city of love.
The story itself was lovely, it was surprising, intuitive, the pace was spot on and the characters were great. 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.
Flora’s character build up was pleasing, she’s passionate, ambitious, caring, and completely independant. She makes time for her family, but her love for art is clear and real. When she is given the opportunity to assess, value and sell the discovered art work, Flora puts everything into the job that she loves so much. Determined not to let the Vermeil family down, she 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. Flora soon finds herself caught in the middle of a family feud with no easy way out when word gets out of the discovery.
The love/hate chemistry between Flora and Xavier worked well in the story. Xavier is focused on protecting his sister at all costs, which you could appreciate with the backstory. Unfortunately it made him blind at times, since nothing else mattered. At first, Flora was just an unwanted guest his sister hated but when Flora was accused of divulging his family’s secret, his hatred of her grew into something he couldn’t understand. Flora, never allowing herself to be distracted from her career by something as complicated as love, found herself watching the dark and brooding Xavier from a distance. Their feelings were sweet and innocent which was a lovely aspect to the story.
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.”
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?