In her previous two novels (The Dollhouse and The Address), Fiona Davis centered her story around a landmark building in New York City. She continues to do so with her third book, The Masterpiece, with Grand Central Terminal serving as its backdrop. Within this setting, Davis tells the story of two women: Clara Darden in 1928, and Virginia Clay in 1974. Clara is an illustrator and the lone female instructor at the Grand Central School of Art. Desperate to make her own way in the world, Clara eventually becomes the highest paid female artist, though she also secretly wants to be a world-renowned painter. Almost fifty years later, Virginia Clay is a newly divorced single mother struggling to make ends meet. She begrudgingly accepts a job at the information booth in Grand Central Terminal, an event that will change her life. Surrounded by an eclectic group of co-workers, Virginia learns about the history of the terminal, the abandoned Grand Central School of Art, and the plans to demolish the building. As she investigates the school, she learns about Clara Darden and is drawn into the mystery of the artist, who disappeared in 1931.
Fiona Davis expertly weaves the stories of Clara and Virginia together, making one wonder how the two will ultimately connect. Within these two timeframes, Davis vividly captures the glittering heyday of Grand Central Terminal in the 1920s and its decay by the 1970s. Davis also brings to light the building’s history, especially the fight to save it from demolition. Ultimately, the theme of Davis’ book is powerful: two strong, independent women, each trying to change their circumstances, all within the backdrop of one of New York City’s most beautiful buildings.