I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Annabel has been working to trust her brother again after he is released from jail for counterfeiting paintings but when she arrives at his flat to find two plainclothes detectives, she knows something is direly wrong.
With her art world knowledge, Annabel could be a tremendous help to Inspector Matthew as he searches for an art thief and murderer but it's getting increasingly hard for him to put her in danger.
Suspects are lining up, plots are thickening, and buried secrets are getting revealed in this Victorian murder mystery.
“I think all our memories have a trace of deceit in them,” Matthew said, his expression regretful.
A Dangerous Duet, first in the Victorian Mystery series, introduced readers to the heroine's brother Matthew. A broody, overworked Inspector who took time and care with his thoughts and actions. I enjoyed watching him think and deduct in this continuation of the series. However, this is very much Annabel's story. Reader's come up on her as she has a sinking feeling about her brother Edwin, but as he has disappointed her in the past about turning his life around, she arrives at his flat annoyed that she is worried about him. This makes the impact of learning he was murdered hit her harder as guilt takes over. As this story is told from Annabel's point of view, readers really get into her head and I found her to be a calm, thoughtful, and intelligent heroine.
The murder mystery plot has Matthew trying to solve who and why murdered Edwin and possibly stole a painting he was cleaning. Was the murder random, was the painting the crux of the murder, or was Edwin targeted because of instances in his past? The author did a good job providing us with red-herrings: Felix is a friend of Annabel and Edwin and he gave the painting to Edwin to clean for his auction house. When it comes out that the painting could be a forgery, his reputation and livelihood are on the line. The seller of the painting, a widow, claims the painting was supposed to be a gift for her anniversary from her late husband but she is also in need of money. The step-son of the man who supposedly sold it to the widow's husband, claims it was burned in a fire and the painting has to be a forgery but if not, he wants it back; his relationship was very contentious with his step-father. Then lastly, possible enemies from Edwin's childhood school days.
I thought the author's strong suit was in providing these possible suspects and developing their reasons, slowly revealing them to the reader. This kept me guessing, involved, and locked into the mystery. Tying in and keeping Annabel involved with the investigation, through her art world knowledge, got a bit too in depth for me at times. I'm not a particular art connoisseur but others that are would maybe enjoy the name dropping and dive into paintings and painters that were popular or emerging during this time period. The author also includes some political background and tied in some real events, the Pantechnicon burning down, that helped set the period feel and gave the story more authenticity for me.
The focus of the story is very much on the art world and wadding through facts, backstories, characters, and revealed secrets to find out who and why Edwin was murdered, the romance between Annabel and Matthew is probably only around 3% of this stories focus. I was surprised, though, that the last 10% was so emotional for me, be prepared to have some of the slow, steady reveals from the murder mystery to hit you hard at the end. With the way the author hit me with this emotional writing, I was a little disappointed I didn't feel it throughout the story; the art world talk eclipsed it. Regardless, if looking for a Victorian murder mystery immersed in the art world, A Trace of Deceit delivers with meaningful red-herrings and an affecting end.