The Lover’s Portrait
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 1
by Jennifer S. Alderson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
A portrait holds the key to recovering a cache of looted artwork, secreted away during World War II, in this captivating historical art thriller set in the 1940s and present-day Amsterdam.
When a Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.
After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later.
When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it.
Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.
Awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion by indieBRAG’s readers in March 2019
Chosen as Chill with a Book’s January 2018 Book of the Month and winner of a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award
One of TripFiction’s 10 Favorite Books set in Amsterdam
Silver Cup winner in Rosie’s Book Review Team 2017 Awards, Mystery category
Readers’ Favorite 5 star medal
One of The Displaced Nation magazine’s Top 36 Expat Fiction Picks of 2016
One of Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine’s Recommended Reads for April 2017.
Set in present day and wartime Amsterdam, this captivating thriller is not just about stolen paintings, but also the lives that were stolen. This art history mystery also describes the plight of homosexuals and Jewish artists in Europe during World War II, as well as the complexities inherent to the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Lover’s Portrait is Book One in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The amateur sleuth mysteries in this series can be read in any order.
Rituals of the Dead
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 2
A museum researcher must solve a decades-old murder before she becomes the killer’s next victim in this riveting dual timeline thriller set in Papua and the Netherlands.
Agats, Dutch New Guinea (Papua), 1961: While collecting Asmat artifacts for a New York museum, American anthropologist Nick Mayfield stumbles upon a smuggling ring organized by high-ranking members of the Dutch colonial government and the Catholic Church. Before he can alert the authorities, he vanishes in a mangrove swamp, never to be seen again.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2018: While preparing for an exhibition of Asmat artifacts in a Dutch ethnographic museum, researcher Zelda Richardson finds Nick Mayfield’s journal in a long-forgotten crate. Before Zelda can finish reading the journal, her housemate is brutally murdered and ‘Give back what is not yours’ is scrawled on their living room wall.
Someone wants ancient history to stay that way—and believes murder is the surest way to keep the past buried.
Can she solve a sixty-year-old mystery before decades of deceit, greed, and retribution cost Zelda her life?
Awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion by indieBRAG’s readers in December 2018
One of Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews’ Top 20 Books of 2018
Winner of a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award, June 2018
A Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine’s Recommended Reads for March 2018
New Apple’s 2018 Summer Book Awards, Official Selection Mystery/Thriller category
BookLife Prize for Fiction 2018, Mystery/Thriller category, rating 8.50
Art, religion and history collide in this edge-of-your-seat museum thriller, Book Two of the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
Marked For Revenge
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 3
An exhilarating adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, Luxembourg, and Turkey about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance.
When researcher Zelda Richardson begins working at a local museum, she doesn’t expect to get entangled with an art theft, knocked unconscious by a forger, threatened by the mob, or stalked by drug dealers.
To make matters worse, a Croatian gangster is convinced Zelda knows where a cache of recently pilfered paintings is. She must track down an international gang of art thieves and recover the stolen artwork in order to save those she loves most.
The trouble is, Zelda doesn’t know where to look. Teaming up with art detective Vincent de Graaf may be her only hope at salvation.
The trail of clues leads Zelda and Vincent on a pulse-pounding race across Europe to a dramatic showdown in Turkey that may cost them their lives.
Awarded a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award in June 2019
A Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine Recommended Reads in June 2019
One of Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews Top 20 Reads of 2019
Placed at #30 in ReadFreely’s Top 50 Indie Reads of 2019
Chosen as Chill with a Book’s June 2019 Cover of the Month
Marked for Revenge is the third book in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
The Vermeer Deception
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 4
An art historian finds – then loses – a portrait by Johannes Vermeer in this thrilling art mystery set in Munich, Heidelberg, and Amsterdam.
When Zelda Richardson investigates a new lead about a missing portrait by Johannes Vermeer, no one expects her to actually find the painting in a retired art dealer’s home in Munich, Germany. Not her parents visiting from America; her boss, private detective Vincent de Graaf; or the rightful owner of the Nazi-looted artwork.
However, Zelda’s jubilation turns to horror when she arrives to pick up the portrait and finds the art dealer dead and several frames smoldering in his fireplace.
Was the Vermeer a fake and its ‘discovery’ a cruel joke played on a Nazi victim? The Munich police, Zelda’s family, and Vincent certainly think so.
Yet the art dealer’s best friend believes he was murdered and the real Vermeer stolen by an underground network of art looters, one established during World War II and still active today. The problem is, no one believes him – except Zelda.
Zelda soon finds herself in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with immoral art collectors, corrupt dealers, and an all-to-real killer who wants her to stop searching.
Can Zelda uncover the truth about the Vermeer before she is painted out of the picture permanently?
The Vermeer Deception is Book 4 in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
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Guest Post by the Author
Amsterdam: the Perfect Setting for an Art Mystery
I can safely say if hadn’t moved to Amsterdam to study art history twelve years ago, I never would have written The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery. My life here as an expat and art history student, as well as the turbulent history of this amazing city, directly inspired the storyline and several of the characters.
Amsterdam is the perfect setting for an art-related mystery, especially one in which the looting of artwork by the Nazis during World War Two plays a central role. It’s about an American art history student who finds clues to the whereabouts of a collection of masterpieces hidden somewhere in Amsterdam, secreted away in 1942 by a homosexual art dealer who’d rather die than turn his collection over to his Nazi blackmailer. Write what you know, so as the saying goes.
A Museum for Every Taste
Art history is what brought me to the Netherlands. Though I’d planned on completing a two-year degree and then moving back to the States, once I got here and started my studies, I found it impossible to leave. I ended up earning a four-year master’s degree in art history and museum studies and had the privilege of interning and working for some of the most prestigious museums in the world, all located in this fine city I know call home.
Amsterdam is an art and museum lover’s paradise. There is a saying here that Amsterdam has more museums than in all of America. It might be true – there are more than 300 hundred registered museums within the city limits. Three world-renowned museums – the Van Gogh Museum, Stedelijk Museum and Rijksmuseum – are all situated on one relatively small city square in the heart of the city. Though most tourists come for the ‘Big Three’, there is literally a museum for everyone here: from the touristy weed, torture and sex museums, to prestigious photography, film and modern art museums, to well-preserved canal houses offering a peek into a bygone era, and specialty ones dedicated to hats, hand bags, eyeglasses, and pipes.
Amsterdam: a gorgeous and thriving metropolis
Anyway you cut it, Amsterdam is a gorgeous city. The centuries-old canal houses, boat-filled waterways, perfect puffy clouds and striking Northern light make it one of the most photogenic metropolises in the world, as attested to by the high number of films and television shows filmed here. During the summer, it’s impossible to ride through the center without having to take a detour because a film crew has taken over a street or even city block. The city’s many canals, bikes and pedestrians, tiny alleyways, centuries-old homes, distinctive churches, and hidden squares, lend itself as the setting for many a book as well.
There is a constant flux of tourists here – from day trippers to backpacking loungers – looking to get stoned, take a bike tour, pop into a church, visit world class art museums, the Anne Frank House and the Heineken Brewery, often in that order.
Yet the center is also alive and bustling with rich locals and expats who’ve set up a luxurious home in one of the canal houses, as well as the lucky renters who scored a government-controlled apartment as part of social housing. Parents teach their kids to ride bikes on the narrow brick-paved streets, allowing them to play football or skip rope in-between bikes, scooters, and cars racing by.
This mix of tourist, expat and local all jammed into a ringed city center you can bike across in a half-hour, makes for an interesting mix of stories and is a constant source of inspiration for me as a writer.
This city continues to spark new ideas. My next novel, another art-mystery about Asmat bis poles, missionaries and anthropologists – was conceived during my internship at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. I know this city – it’s museums, culture, architecture, colorful locals and even public transportation – stimulate me daily.
Looted Art and the Restitution Process
Like most European capitals, Amsterdam is drenched in World War Two relics, plaques, monuments, museums and memorials. It is a period of time that is still tangible for the older generation and its consequences are felt daily.
A novel about Nazi-looted artwork could have taken place in Brussels, London, Paris. Several famous books about the war are set in these cities, also deeply marked by the Nazis’ atrocious actions and policies. However, I’ve tried to create a plot and characters unique to the Netherlands by including details about the Nazis’ strict rules regarding what Dutch artists could paint and gallery owners could display, their underhanded attempts to decimate the local Jewish community without the gentile population noticing, and their sickening mental and physical abuse of homosexuals in a country where sodomy in public places was only a misdemeanor prior to the war. I’ve also worked hard to provide a Dutch perspective on the often complex process of art restitution.
While I was studying art history and museology at the University of Amsterdam, the Dutch government organized an exhibition of artwork looted by the Nazis yet still unclaimed, called Stolen, but from whom?. The exhibition was held in the Amsterdam’s Joodse Synogage, a religious building that was used by the Nazis as a ‘collection point’ before Dutch citizens were transported to concentration camps abroad.
The restitution of Nazi-looted art was a hot topic during my time at the University of Amsterdam and often discussed by prominent guest speakers who were directly involved in the exhibition at the Joodse Synogogue or in such controversial cases as the Goudstikker collection, an extraordinarily discombobulated, multimillion-dollar claim on the extensive collection once owned by art dealer Jacques Goudstikker.
At the same time, several now-famous non-fiction books and documentaries about Dutch art dealers active during the war and their controversial connections with Nazi officers, were published and featured prominently on regional television shows and in the local media. Newspapers and magazines printed long articles explaining the complexities and legalities involved in these restitution cases, even when there is no doubt as to whom the last legal owner was.
During my internships, I watched first-hand as several museums conduct the same archival research Zelda’s team at the Amsterdam Museum does, when trying to locate the rightful owners.
In many ways, The Lover’s Portrait: An Art Mystery was happening all around me, all I had to do was write it down.
Hi! I am an American expat currently living in Amsterdam. After traveling extensively around Asia, Oceania, and Central America, I moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. When not writing, you can find me in a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning my next research trip.
My love of travel, art, and culture inspires my award-winning Zelda Richardson Mystery series, Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries, and standalone stories.
The Lover’s Portrait (Book One) is a suspenseful whodunit about Nazi-looted artwork that transports readers to WWII and present-day Amsterdam. Art, religion, and anthropology collide in Rituals of the Dead (Book Two), a thrilling artifact mystery set in Papua New Guinea and the Netherlands. My pulse-pounding adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey— Marked for Revenge (Book Three)—is a story about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance.
The Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries are a funny new series featuring tour guide and amateur sleuth, Lana Hansen. Join Lana as she leads tourists and readers to fascinating cities around the globe on intriguing adventures that, unfortunately for Lana, often turn deadly. Book One— Death on the Danube —takes Lana to Budapest for a New Year’s trip. Can Lana figure out who murdered her fellow tour guide before she too ends up floating in the Danube? Death by Baguette: A Valentine’s Day Murder in Paris (Books Two) will be released in February 2020, and Book 3 in May 2020.
I am also the author of Down and Out in Kathmandu , Holiday Gone Wrong , and Notes of a Naive Traveler .
Connect with me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or my website.
I have also started a group for readers and writers of travel fiction and non-fiction – Travel By Book. We are a promotion and discussion group active on Facebook with a growing presence here on Goodreads.
Thanks for stopping by!
“Art-related, Dutch goodies” prize package, includes:
– Playmobil toy of Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (from the Rijksmuseum)
– A notebook featuring Vermeer’s The Milkmaid on the cover
– A tulip pen
– A fabric bag from a local Amsterdam cafe
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!