The Magnolia Palace

Dutton. Jan. 2022. 352p. ISBN 9780593184011. $27. F
In Davis’s (The Lions of Fifth Avenue) latest historical novel, dual timelines seamlessly connect the lives of two women at New York’s Frick Collection. In 1919, Lillian Carter (based on the real-life artists’ model Audrey Munson) is the supermodel of her day and the muse of classical sculptors; her face and figure grace hundreds of famous statues throughout New York City. When her landlord’s wife is murdered, Lillian is sought as a person of interest and hides away by taking a job at the Frick mansion. There she works as private secretary to Helen Clay Frick and lives among the collection’s masterpieces, including a portrait of herself. In 1966, British model Veronica Weber comes to the Frick mansion (now a museum) for a photo shoot and ends up being locked in during a storm. The two timelines meet when Veronica discovers secret messages among the Frick’s masterpieces and uncovers a long-lost heirloom.
VERDICT Davis adeptly interweaves two compelling story lines to shine a light on another NYC landmark (after novels set in the Chelsea Hotel and the New York Public Library). This is historical fiction at its best, with well-developed characters, detail, art history, and mystery.
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