The Shifting Landscape, Katherine Kovacic
“I step over the threshold. The day is drawing in and the room is shadowy, so it’s not until Mac snaps on the light that I see it. I almost trip over a coffee table in my rush to get to the fireplace or, more specifically, the painting hanging over the marble mantelpiece.
I stare for a moment then spin around and look at Mac. He’s closed the door but hasn’t advanced into the room and is standing there, arms folded, watching my reaction.”
Art dealer and I hesitate to say amateur sleuth Alex Clayton returns in Katherine Kovacic’s third novel The Shifting Landscape. I hesitate because Alex Clayton is no amateur. In the second Alex Clayton novel, Painting In The Shadows, we learned that she is an expert at spotting a forgery, she can see those imperfections which immediately cast doubt on the authenticity of an artwork. It is a skill which aids her in real life as well.
The Shifting Landscape begins with a momentous change for Alex. The head is overruling the heart, she has made a practical decision, but part of her identity is gone. Soon afterwards Alex receives a call from Alasdair McMillan a grazier from the Western Districts inviting her down to Kinloch, the family homestead near Hamilton, to assess the family art collection. In all likelihood the collection won’t be highly valued, but with the remote possibility that there may be a few hidden gems, even less likely a hidden diamond in the form of an undiscovered masterpiece by a major artist, Alex can’t resist so she straps Hogarth, her wolfhound, into the backseat and heads for Hamilton. Shortly after arriving at Kinloch Alex finds an artwork which requires significant restoration and art conservator and friend John Porter is invited to join them. Later that evening Alex finds Alasdair McMillan critically injured, seemingly caused by an accident, she senses something is wrong. Her first instinct is to pack up and head back home, but circumstances change and Alex, John and Hogarth must stay until the mystery is solved.
As with the first two Alex Clayton novels, The Portrait of Mollie Dean and Painting In The Shadows, art plays a major part in The Shifting Landscape. Katherine Kovacic imparts her art knowledge with a great deal of skill and in doing so the reader is treated to both an excellent mystery novel and art lesson all in one. In recent years fans of crime/mystery novels in Australia have been spoilt by the sheer excellence of books which have been released, with this highly readable and thoroughly enjoyable novel Katherine Kovacic ensures that we continue to be spoilt. Long may it continue.
Art dealer Alex Clayton travels to Victoria's Western District to value the MacMillan family's collection. At their historic sheep station, she finds an important and previously unknown colonial painting - and a family fraught with tension. There are arguments about the future of the property and its place in an ancient and highly significant indigenous landscape.
When the family patriarch dies under mysterious circumstances and the painting is stolen, Alex decides to leave; then a toddler disappears and Alex's faithful dog Hogarth goes missing. With fears rising for the safety of both child and hound, Alex and her nest friend John, who has been drawn into the mystery, join searchers scouring the countryside. But her attempts to unravel the MacMillan family secrets have put Alex in danger, and she's not the only one. Will the killer claim another victim? Or will the landscape reveal its mysteries to Alex in time?