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Tuesday, February 22nd 2005

6:03 PM

The SECRET PORTRAIT by Lillian Stewart Carl



What if there were a conspiracy to suppress parts of your family tree? That's what Rick MacLyon, an American millionaire living in Scotland, believes has happened through the course of history and is happening when the police begin to investigate the murder of his historian and librarian, George Lovelace. Lovelace had recently visited Jean Fairbairn ,a journalist and former British history professor. He presented her with an intriguing artifact from the era of Bonnie Prince Charlie. MacLyon's and Fairbairn's paths cross when Fairbairn is assigned to interview MacLyon about his restored home near the historical Loch Arkaig. Instead of an interview at the appointed time Jean finds the body of Lovelace. Fairbairn begins to believe the artifact could have been found on the MacLyon's estate. She and hard-nosed Chief Inspector Alasdair Cameron begin to wonder if the artifact is related to Lovelace's murder. What they find is the genealogy of Prince Charlie and the history of Loch Arkaig are more important clues to solving the murder and the mystery of the artifact.

This is the first Lillian Stewart Carl book I've read. She is the author of many short stories and novels all revolving around history and myth, music and magic. In the Secret Portrait Carl gives us a great deal of history, spiced lightly with a ghost story. Carl's story and her characters had me reading every spare moment I had. MacLyon's conspiracy theory moments which are laced through the book had me laughing out loud. Carl's skillful story telling, the history and the discussion of how conspiracy theories effect the past and the present make the Secret Portrait a mystery worth reading.

Carl has an insightful take on how family myth and fascination with one's heritage can be carried too far. Genealogists, historians, and others will probably be able to pick out these subtle themes in the Secret Portrait. Once they recognize themselves they should reflect on how they construct their own realities. How much should we live out our own heritage? Readers, think on that a moment….

Myself, I haven't gone over the edge of living out my ancestors' heritage. Yet. I've just become obsessed with searching for my roots. So much so that when I can't work on my family history I try and solve fictional ones. Ahh…. Well… Carl and I have solved this one. Well, really, she had me guessing until the end …. Now I'm off to finally reading Murder at Monticello. Rita Mae Brown, myself, and a cat have a mystery that involves genealogy to solve.  Until then…Christine

The Secret Portrait     ISBN: 1-59414-307-2    Five Star



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