The Artist Colony

Written by Joanna FitzPatrick
Review by Trish MacEnulty

Set in the summer of 1924, Joanna FitzPatrick’s latest novel tells the story of Sarah Cunningham, an artist in Paris who travels to Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, to fulfill a promise to her dead sister, Ada, also an artist. Inspired by a great aunt, a painter, and the women’s artist colony where she lived, FitzPatrick takes this setting and infuses it with intrigue in the form of a murder mystery. The book also delves into a disturbing aspect of this bucolic setting: the cruel bigotry experienced by Japanese immigrants in the area.

Sarah understands her sister’s desire to have her legacy protected, especially from an unscrupulous art dealer, but before she can address the issue of Ada’s art, she must find out what really happened to her. This leads Sarah into conducting her own investigation into her sister’s death and into the disappearance of a series of portraits she painted. She’s aided by an adorable dog, a half-Japanese aspiring artist, and an Irish inn keeper. The town marshal is no help; neither are the other authority figures who insist Ada’s sister killed herself. However, Sarah persists and is encouraged when a handsome photographer wants to be her ally.

The author’s screenwriting roots are evident in a sparse, fast-paced prose style throughout some sections of the book. FitzPatrick is more detailed when it comes to describing works of art or the orange-billed tern with “white-arched wings spanning across the blue sky” that appears as her sister’s spirit. The result is that the book is somewhat uneven in terms of writing, but readers who enjoy an exciting narrative with unexpected twists will find this a diverting and illuminating read.