Attorney Mara Coyne’s firm is hired by art-auction-house Beazley’s to defend the ownership of The Chrysalis, a 17th-century Dutch painting. But Hilda Baum, whose parents died in the Holocaust, says the Nazis stole the painting from her family, and she is the rightful owner. Up for partnership and ready to win this case, Mara finds that her contact at the auction house is the dashing Michael, an old college crush. She and Michael begin a secret affair while she works with Beazley’s expert, Lillian, to prove the painting’s unblemished provenance.
The painting actively links three separate storylines, presented in alternating chapters from present-day New York to 17th century Netherlands and 1940s Berlin, as Terrell retells the story of the painting and Mara’s quest for the true ownership. A lawyer herself, Terrell earnestly focuses on questions of morality and betrayal, but her artless writing frustrates. While filled with great imagery and details, this substandard debut lacks imagination, creative plot, and a climactic resolution. Petering off towards the end, Terrell’s storytelling disappoints as the story winds down in a feeble conclusion. What could have been a great story ends up being a mediocre mystery at best.