The Shattered Portrait (Belle Epoque Mystery)

Written by Alexandra Maldwyn-Davies (trans.) Alice Quinn
Review by Fiona Alison

Quinn’s second mystery in the Belle Époque series is set in Cannes, using the 1883 real estate scandal of the ‘Boulevard de la Foncière’ as background. Quinn’s fictional banker, Henri Cousin, is based on the real-life banker Henri Germain, who was the instigator and the main benefactor of the project.

Cousin is deservedly the most hated person in Cannes, having caused the ruin of many investors, while he remains complacently wealthy. When he is stabbed to death, no one is particularly sorry, and there are multiple suspects. The police’s focus is on Anna, the young ward of society courtesan Lola Deslys, who lives with her friend and amateur sleuth, Gabriella. Lola and Guy Maupassant (the writer lived part-time on Bel-Ami, moored at Cannes), aid Gabriella in searching for the real culprit, but there are numerous red herrings. Lola’s reckless visit to the insane asylum is particularly harrowing. A rich array of characters weaves through the story, making it a nicely unpredictable mystery. Quinn gives us some complex love triangles to sort through – Gabriella is in love with Lola, having ended a relationship four years ago with Lady Sarah (who is married); Lola is in love with Maupassant, who is married but has a mistress and child; Lola’s brother, Mario, loves Anna; Ferdinand loves Lola, and various other characters have hidden connections.

Set during the Belle Époque of 1888, the novel touches on gay relationships, sexual abuse, the vulnerability of women, late 19th-century treatment of mental illness, and the cavernous divide between rich and poor. Quinn researched her locations by walking through Cannes in search of buildings where her characters might live, work and play and this broadens the novel’s authenticity of time and place. This is a successful standalone and well worth the wait for the translation!