All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

on June 23, 2016

Paris SecretThe Paris Secret
Karen Swan
Pan Macmillan AUS
2016, 416p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

With stunning locations and page-turning tension, The Paris Secret is an intense and gripping tale from bestselling author Karen Swan.

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?

I picked up this book yesterday afternoon as I’d been struggling with the other book I was reading. I was trying to decide if it was my mindset or the book – given that I ended up burning through this in pretty much one sitting, I think I got my answer.

From the first page, I was hooked. The idea is so fascinating – and not at all fanciful. An apartment, kept locked and left untouched from the time of the second World War. When it is finally opened, it contains hundreds of paintings, sculptures and artifacts. A veritable treasure trove! Art agent Flora is called in to evaluate and organise the collection. She knows that these paintings could be worth exorbitant amounts (especially two or three), should all the paperwork be in order.

It doesn’t take long before she hits a wall. Several of the paintings trace back to a dealer that worked for the Third Reich in the war which means that they were quite possibly acquired by force or worse, tainting the line of ownership. However even Flora is utterly unprepared for what her digging will uncover – not just for the powerful and wealthy Vermeil family, who own the apartment and the paintings found within, but also for herself personally.

This book is quite loosely based on a real discovery of an apartment filled with artwork and the like in Paris and it was such a fun story! I know nothing about art – nothing at all. I can probably name three paintings in the entire world, barely know Monet from Manet and have zero knowledge on styles and times of famous painters but this book make Flora’s job seem like the most fascinating one in the world. She spends a lot of time travelling acquiring pieces for her wealthy clients and the thought of discovering and cataloging such a collection as the one found in the apartment in Paris must’ve been like discovering Aladdin’s cave.

Flora rarely stays long in one place – she doesn’t even have a place to call her own. She lives her life moving around chasing the perfect piece but when she does have some down time she spends it with her parents at their country estate in England or with her friend in Paris. She’s never been in love – never cared when a man walked away, never missed anyone or rued their leaving. She meets Xavier Vermeil, the son of her clients with the apartment in less than flattering circumstances, although she’s already been clued in by her Parisian friend about Xavier and his sister Natascha. They are typically spoiled and rich, causing scandal after scandal, partying their way through exotic locales with their parent’s money making everything slide off them like Teflon. Flora has run ins with both of them, with Xavier and Natascha making it clear they don’t want Flora anywhere near their family and that she isn’t needed. Flora isn’t employed by them though and so she remains to do her job, even when she begins to uncover some very unsettling things.

There’s a simmering….awareness, I suppose, between Flora and Xavier but it doesn’t really ever become a dominant part of the story. In fact you could almost argue that at times it feels as though it could’ve been a bigger part. The focus is always on the artwork, the apartment and the story behind how it came to be that way and why it was left untouched for so long. There are so many twists and turns, some things I really didn’t expect and others I was able to piece together as Flora did.

I absolutely loved this book – I think there are only two real quibbles with it and the first is merely the repetition of brand and designer names. I know Flora runs with a wealthy set and her clients are super wealthy as well and obviously so are the Vermeils. But constant dropping of names like Dior and Valentino and Chanel and whatever got a bit tedious as I don’t really care about what dress that I can’t afford any random character was wearing at any given time in the story. It may have been to set the scene, but I already knew everyone was well off and that there were a lot of rich playgrounds going to be featured. Adding in the brand names to a certain piece of clothing or pair of shoes doesn’t do much except make me stop and google that so I can see what it looks like and I can’t be bothered doing that when I’m reading.

The second thing was the scandal that befalls Flora’s family. This is hinted at very early on but it’s drawn out for the unknowing reader and only revealed towards the end so that it almost coincides with something that Xavier is telling Flora during one of their rare conversations. It seemed to only serve as yet another piece of conflict to keep Xavier and Flora apart a little longer and it did feel a bit clumsy – both the actual story behind Flora’s family member and the reaction to it as well as the way in which it was resolved. It wasn’t enough to change my feelings on the story and how much I enjoyed it, I’m just not sure it was really necessary, especially as Flora spends so much time away from her family in the books. We don’t really get the chance to truly know her brother so I was pretty ambivalent to his problem and like I mentioned, it seemed like it was more about Flora and Xavier than him, which is a bit awkward.

Both of those are minor and didn’t affect at all my enjoyment of the story, the setting and the characters. It’s probably one of my favourite reads of 2016 so far, the atmosphere and the way in which the author teases out secrets and deftly weaves together the past and the present is quite masterful.


Book #136 of 2016


3 responses to “Review: The Paris Secret by Karen Swan

  1. […] The Paris Secret by Karen Swan. I really enjoyed this book! Set in Paris with the discovery of an apartment that has been locked up since WWII, filled with valuable paintings and artifacts. It was loosely based on a real discovery and I found it a fascinating and enjoyable story. […]

  2. […] Better Than Books? (9/10; „Compelling, emotional and deliciously mysterious!“)all the books i can read (9/10; „the atmosphere and the way in which the author teases out secrets and deftly weaves […]

  3. […] across a Karen Swan book. Recently I read The Hidden Beach and loved it. And prior to that I read The Paris Secret and really loved that too. And the cover of this one really drew my attention. It’s set in […]

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