Lowell, Joanna. Artfully Yours. Berkley, 2023. 336 pp. ISBN 9780593198322 $17.00
Opposites attract when an art forger and art critic fall for one another. Nina Finch’s forgeries hang in museums and homes of private collectors. An accomplished painter, she’s been carefully trained by her art school drop-out brother, who is sort of like her art pimp. She’s rather be baking and doesn’t particularly want a life of crime, but it’s funding for a potential purchase of a kitchen and shop in the country. She is working as a parlor maid in the Duke of Umfreville’s estate where one of her fakes hang when his brother, acclaimed art critic Alan De’Ath reveals the painting is fraudulent. When the shocked maid drops the tea service and is summarily fired for being heard instead of seen, De’Ath offers her a job in his motley crue household working with him, which she accepts, all the while trying to figure out how to keep her identity hidden until she can make away with her savings and live a life on the straight and narrow. Instead, the pair are attracted to one another, and he decides to teach her a little about art.
The writing is sublime: lush, evocative detail; rich period vocabulary; impeccably researched late nineteenth-century customs, culture and manners, and fully fleshed out complex characters. For example, instead of simply describing a character’s appearance, Lowell does it in comparison to another person in a way that masterfully adds to their characterization. She masterfully interweaves various subplots of the relationship between Duke of Umfreville Geoffrey and his wife Fanny, his son’s ill health (which parallel’s Alan’s ill health and disability, and the relationship between Nina and her brother, which comes off as controlling and abusive, and references their traumatic childhood. The cat and mouse game adds intrigue without the work of solving a mystery, and the steamy attraction is thoroughly detailed. This worked as a stand-alone novel for me, and made me want to read further in this universe.
I received a free, advance reader’s review copy of #ArtfullyYours from #NetGalley.