A Discerning Eye

Carol Orange. 2020. 281p. 8:05 hrs. ISBN 9781662270635. $25. F
Orange’s first book takes a fictionalized look at the unsolved 1990 art theft at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Portia Malatesta is a docent at the museum and a gallery owner, who is devastated by the heist of 13 precious paintings. One artwork was especially dear to her, and its loss exacerbates her depression after the recent suicide of her artist brother. Portia deals with her feelings by obsessively researching the paintings, believing they are the key to the theft. The police dismiss her theories, but the FBI is intrigued and brings her into the case in Colombia. The story is read by husband–wife team Campbell Scott and Kathleen McElfresh. McElfresh reads the first half, which doesn’t show Portia in a good light; we see mostly her selfish and self-serving behaviors. Scott’s Colombia-set section brings out Portia’s daring side. Out of her element but doing something she truly believes in, Portia willingly risks everything as she nears the truth. Orange captures Boston well; landmarks, eateries, place names are all exactly as they were in 1990. But the story suffers from excessive background; Portia’s marital troubles, preteen daughter, gallery, and emotional distress leave her little time to gallivant around the globe solving art crimes. Orange completely glosses over the field operative training that Portia sorely lacks.
VERDICT Boston-area libraries will want this local audiobook; the premise is clever, and it wraps up the crime. Other libraries may want to purchase on demand.
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