The Riviera House

Written by Natasha Lester
Review by Jon G. Bradley

This complex multi-generational novel, which has as its base the systematic theft of art works by the German occupiers from conquered Paris, doesn’t have a straightforward chronological narrative.  Author Natasha Lester guides the reader back and forth from 1940s France to the contemporary scene centered in a vacation retreat located on the French Riviera. This is a tragic novel of betrayal and loss in wartime but also one of uplifting human values, as great risks are taken by ordinary citizens to protect European masterpieces from possible loss and even destruction.

“[H]ow do I have in my possession a painting that Hermann Göring stole seventy years ago from someone in France?” This provocative question forces Remy to deal with her personal demons by investigating a past that she had not even suspected. Joined by an odd collection of new acquaintances, Remy struggles with her own tragic history as she investigates events some seventy years distant.

Despite the horror that was occupied Paris, with food and fuel shortages along with the stress of oppression and the expulsion of the Jewish minority, a small group of diverse citizens manages to finagle safety for some masterpieces. Their work is dangerous and constantly open to betrayal. Against significant odds, their efforts are marginally successful, but the human costs are extreme. Remy and her friends, in contrast, also struggle with their own tensions as they pursue the mystery of that special painting with a small bullet hole in the corner that hangs in her bedroom.

Lester’s back-and-forth literary structure may be disconcerting for some readers as the chronological sequence is fragmented. Additionally, Lester drives the reader into the innermost feelings of the main characters via long and complicated dialogues. Present complications and past histories clash as the investigation unfolds.