The Lover’s Portrait
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 1
by Jennifer S. Alderson
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
A portrait holds the key to recovering a cache of looted artwork, secreted away during World War II, in this captivating historical art thriller set in the 1940s and present-day Amsterdam.
When a Dutch art dealer hides the stock from his gallery – rather than turn it over to his Nazi blackmailer – he pays with his life, leaving a treasure trove of modern masterpieces buried somewhere in Amsterdam, presumably lost forever. That is, until American art history student Zelda Richardson sticks her nose in.
After studying for a year in the Netherlands, Zelda scores an internship at the prestigious Amsterdam Museum, where she works on an exhibition of paintings and sculptures once stolen by the Nazis, lying unclaimed in Dutch museum depots almost seventy years later.
When two women claim the same portrait of a young girl entitled Irises, Zelda is tasked with investigating the painting’s history and soon finds evidence that one of the two women must be lying about her past. Before she can figure out which one and why, Zelda learns about the Dutch art dealer’s concealed collection. And that Irises is the key to finding it.
Her discoveries make her a target of someone willing to steal – and even kill – to find the missing paintings. As the list of suspects grows, Zelda realizes she has to track down the lost collection and unmask a killer if she wants to survive.
Awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion by indieBRAG’s readers in March 2019
Chosen as Chill with a Book’s January 2018 Book of the Month and winner of a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award
One of TripFiction’s 10 Favorite Books set in Amsterdam
Silver Cup winner in Rosie’s Book Review Team 2017 Awards, Mystery category
Readers’ Favorite 5 star medal
One of The Displaced Nation magazine’s Top 36 Expat Fiction Picks of 2016
One of Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine’s Recommended Reads for April 2017.
Set in present day and wartime Amsterdam, this captivating thriller is not just about stolen paintings, but also the lives that were stolen. This art history mystery also describes the plight of homosexuals and Jewish artists in Europe during World War II, as well as the complexities inherent to the restitution of artwork stolen by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s.
The Lover’s Portrait is Book One in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The amateur sleuth mysteries in this series can be read in any order.
Just two more crates, then our work is finally done, Arjan reminded himself as he bent down to grasp the thick twine handles, his back muscles already yelping in protest. Drops of sweat were burning his eyes, blurring his vision. “You can do this,” he said softly, heaving the heavy oak box upwards with an audible grunt.
Philip nodded once, then did the same. Together they lugged their loads across the moonlit room, down the metal stairs, and into the cool subterranean space below. After hoisting the last two crates onto a stack close to the ladder, Arjan smiled in satisfaction, slapping Philip on the back as he regarded their work. One hundred and fifty-two crates holding his most treasured objects, and those of so many of his friends, were finally safe. Relief briefly overcame the panic and dread he’d been feeling for longer than he could remember. Preparing the space and artwork had taken more time than he’d hoped it would, but they’d done it. Now he could leave Amsterdam knowing he’d stayed true to his word. Arjan glanced over at Philip, glad he’d trusted him. He stretched out a hand towards the older man. “They fit perfectly.”
Philip answered with a hasty handshake and a tight smile before nodding towards the ladder. “Shall we?”
He is right, Arjan thought, there is still so much to do. They climbed back up into the small shed and closed the heavy metal lid, careful to cushion its fall. They didn’t want to give the neighbors an excuse to call the Gestapo. Not when they were so close to being finished.
Philip picked up a shovel and scooped sand onto the floor, letting Arjan rake it out evenly before adding more. When the sand was an inch deep, they shifted the first layer of heavy cement tiles into place, careful to fit them snug up against each other.
As they heaved and pushed, Arjan allowed himself to think about the future for the first time in weeks. Hiding the artwork was only the first step; he still had a long way to go before he could stop looking over his shoulder. First, back to his place to collect their suitcases. Then, a short walk to Central Station where second-class train tickets to Venlo were waiting. Finally, a taxi ride to the Belgian border where his contact would provide him with falsified travel documents and a chauffeur-driven Mercedes-Benz. The five Rembrandt etchings in his suitcase would guarantee safe passage to Switzerland. From Geneva he should be able to make his way through the demilitarized zone to Lyon, then down to Marseilles. All he had to do was keep a few steps ahead of Oswald Drechsler.
Just thinking about the hawk-nosed Nazi made him work faster. So far he’d been able to clear out his house and storage spaces without Drechsler noticing. Their last load, the canvases stowed in his gallery, was the riskiest, but he’d had no choice. His friends trusted him—no, counted on him—to keep their treasures safe. He couldn’t let them down now. Not after all he’d done wrong.
Rituals of the Dead
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 2
A museum researcher must solve a decades-old murder before she becomes the killer’s next victim in this riveting dual timeline thriller set in Papua and the Netherlands.
Agats, Dutch New Guinea (Papua), 1961: While collecting Asmat artifacts for a New York museum, American anthropologist Nick Mayfield stumbles upon a smuggling ring organized by high-ranking members of the Dutch colonial government and the Catholic Church. Before he can alert the authorities, he vanishes in a mangrove swamp, never to be seen again.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2018: While preparing for an exhibition of Asmat artifacts in a Dutch ethnographic museum, researcher Zelda Richardson finds Nick Mayfield’s journal in a long-forgotten crate. Before Zelda can finish reading the journal, her housemate is brutally murdered and ‘Give back what is not yours’ is scrawled on their living room wall.
Someone wants ancient history to stay that way—and believes murder is the surest way to keep the past buried.
Can she solve a sixty-year-old mystery before decades of deceit, greed, and retribution cost Zelda her life?
Awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion by indieBRAG’s readers in December 2018
One of Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews’ Top 20 Books of 2018
Winner of a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award, June 2018
A Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine’s Recommended Reads for March 2018
New Apple’s 2018 Summer Book Awards, Official Selection Mystery/Thriller category
BookLife Prize for Fiction 2018, Mystery/Thriller category, rating 8.50
Art, religion and history collide in this edge-of-your-seat museum thriller, Book Two of the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
As the river straightened, Nick saw warriors lining the bank, effectively blocking their entrance to the village of Ow. The men had feathered bands tied above their elbows and knees. A piece of bamboo covered some of their genitals. Most wore headdresses and necklaces made of shells, feathers, and twine. White, yellow, and red stripes and dots adorned their dark skin. They all had bows drawn and pointed at Nick’s canoes. He knew it was nothing more than a show, but the sight of all these painted warriors sent chills up his spine.
At the front of Nick’s catamaran was the oldest villager in Kopi, an elder who assured Albert Schenk he could guarantee them safe passage through the villages upstream. The man called out to his neighbors, singing his greeting. After a few melodious exchanges, the warriors lowered their weapons and began shaking their hips, indicating they wouldn’t attack. When the men broke line, Nick could see a large opening and several huts built on stilts rising up behind them. Cowering underneath the structures closest to the shore were the women and children, huddled together in a ball.
The men continued to call and sing to each other as Nick’s regatta pulled up to the shore. Before all of the canoes reached land, a cluster of children broke free from their mothers and ran into the water, shrieking in delight as Nick’s men secured their boats.
Marked For Revenge
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 3
An exhilarating adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, Luxembourg, and Turkey about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance.
When researcher Zelda Richardson begins working at a local museum, she doesn’t expect to get entangled with an art theft, knocked unconscious by a forger, threatened by the mob, or stalked by drug dealers.
To make matters worse, a Croatian gangster is convinced Zelda knows where a cache of recently pilfered paintings is. She must track down an international gang of art thieves and recover the stolen artwork in order to save those she loves most.
The trouble is, Zelda doesn’t know where to look. Teaming up with art detective Vincent de Graaf may be her only hope at salvation.
The trail of clues leads Zelda and Vincent on a pulse-pounding race across Europe to a dramatic showdown in Turkey that may cost them their lives.
Awarded a Chill with a Book Readers’ Award in June 2019
A Women Writers, Women’s Books magazine Recommended Reads in June 2019
One of Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews Top 20 Reads of 2019
Placed at #30 in ReadFreely’s Top 50 Indie Reads of 2019
Chosen as Chill with a Book’s June 2019 Cover of the Month
Marked for Revenge is the third book in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
Sunlight sparkled off the waters of Marmaris Bay, turning the ripples into fluid diamonds. In the distance, the green-tipped mountains enclosing the town were hazy purple silhouettes. From his balcony, Kadir Tekin watched Westerners on jet skis churning up the waves as Turkish families splashed in the warm water close to shore. Four-masters decorated as pirate ships sailed further out, heading toward the high peaks of Yildiz Adasi and Keci Adasi, the mountainous islands that separated Marmaris from the Mediterranean Sea.
A servant dressed in a tunic and şalvar trousers unobtrusively came up from behind, bowing slightly. “Luka Antic is here.”
Kadir grunted his acknowledgment, keeping his eyes focused south. A large yacht crossed the bay, sail set for Netsel Marina. He watched until the Italian vessel moored and a group of wealthy twenty-somethings scampered off, immediately heading toward the boutique-filled streets next to the marina. He picked up his binoculars and took in their scantily-clad bodies, dark curly hair, and the expensive jewelry hanging around their necks, arms, and ankles. He was planning to lunch along the water after this meeting—he would have to look for them.
Kadir turned and crossed the pink stone marble balcony to the wide-open French doors of his study. Inside stood his Croatian guest. When Davit, a mutual business associate, told him about Luka’s specialty and mentioned the Croatian was looking to expand his business interests, Kadir jumped at the chance to meet with him.
Initial contact established that Luka wanted to buy two million dollars’ worth of his highest-grade heroin. The Croatian was moving into the drugs business and wanted to make a big splash. Kadir was impressed by his gumption and could easily fulfill the order, but he wanted to meet Luka first. Nothing replaced that initial impression. Besides, he wanted to see the Croatian’s reaction when he told him about his rather unusual request. Only then would he know if they could do business together or not.
Luka stood next to Kadir’s desk, waiting for his host to approach. Luka was shorter than Kadir’s own five-foot, five-inch frame but was sturdier, broader. His buzz cut distracted from the fact that he was going bald. His face was clean-shaven, but his stubble was already struggling to break through his skin again.
Kadir extended a hand. “Davit speaks highly of you.”
“That’s good to know. We go way back,” Luka replied. The Croatian’s raspy voice made Kadir have to strain his ears to understand him.
Kadir sat in one of the chairs across from his desk and signaled for Luka to sit next to him. “Davit told me you are active in the art world.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Luka responded, his face remaining a mask of indifference.
Kadir leaned over his desk and picked up a newspaper resting atop a stack of coffee table books. He threw it onto Luka’s lap. The headline on the English-language paper’s front page read ‘Brazen Art Theft in Luxembourg.’ Photos of Vianden Castle and two painted landscapes were visible above the fold. “This is your work, isn’t it?”
The Vermeer Deception
Zelda Richardson Mystery Series Book 4
An art historian finds – then loses – a portrait by Johannes Vermeer in this thrilling art mystery set in Munich, Heidelberg, and Amsterdam.
When Zelda Richardson investigates a new lead about a missing portrait by Johannes Vermeer, no one expects her to actually find the painting in a retired art dealer’s home in Munich, Germany. Not her parents visiting from America; her boss, private detective Vincent de Graaf; or the rightful owner of the Nazi-looted artwork.
However, Zelda’s jubilation turns to horror when she arrives to pick up the portrait and finds the art dealer dead and several frames smoldering in his fireplace.
Was the Vermeer a fake and its ‘discovery’ a cruel joke played on a Nazi victim? The Munich police, Zelda’s family, and Vincent certainly think so.
Yet the art dealer’s best friend believes he was murdered and the real Vermeer stolen by an underground network of art looters, one established during World War II and still active today. The problem is, no one believes him – except Zelda.
Zelda soon finds herself in a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse with immoral art collectors, corrupt dealers, and an all-to-real killer who wants her to stop searching.
Can Zelda uncover the truth about the Vermeer before she is painted out of the picture permanently?
The Vermeer Deception is Book 4 in the Zelda Richardson Mystery Series. The novels in this series can be read in any order.
Kurt Weber gazed out the tenth-story window, taking in the first leaves of spring budding on the tree outside his doctor’s office. The lilting melody of a robin flying away from its nest on a lower branch made him turn. Snuggled up inside were three perfect eggs—the ultimate symbol of new life. How ironic.
“Herr Weber, did you hear me? I am afraid there is nothing more we can do. The cancer has spread too rapidly.” The doctor was young, too young to understand what Kurt was feeling inside.
Kurt nodded, keeping his gaze directed outside at the bright sun and clear blue skies. He had never noticed the beauty of nature before. Such a shame.
“I have informational pamphlets for you to take home. Our grief counselors and pain managers will want to make appointments with you in the coming weeks. We want to do everything we can to help you—”
“You’ve done all that you could, and I appreciate it.” Kurt’s voice cracked as he spoke. He had been battling lung and prostate cancer for several years now. He knew this day would come, but learning that his death was truly imminent did not make it easier to process.
“Do you have a lawyer to help get your affairs in order?”
“I do.” A whole team, in fact, he thought. However, most of what he had to get in order before he passed, he could not share with his regular legal team. “How much time do I have?”
The robin’s sweet melody attracted their attention to the tree, and together, they watch as the mother bird returned to her nest and gently settled her tiny body over her eggs.
“We never know for certain, but I estimate three months. If you are lucky.”
Kurt’s shoulders hunched over. The doctor’s words were a punch in the gut. Three months wasn’t much time. He knew he should have prepared more, but it was too difficult to face the inevitable. Yet his impending demise required that he take action—and quickly. He could not leave his father’s artwork behind for the Network to take. He had to figure out a way to honor his father’s memory before it was too late.
But how far was he willing to go to do so?
**On Sale for only $2.99!**
“Art-related, Dutch goodies” prize package, includes:
– Playmobil toy of Vermeer’s The Milkmaid (from the Rijksmuseum)
– A notebook featuring Vermeer’s The Milkmaid on the cover
– A tulip pen
– A fabric bag from a local Amsterdam cafe
Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
About the Author
Hi! I am an American expat currently living in Amsterdam. After traveling extensively around Asia, Oceania, and Central America, I moved to Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands. When not writing, you can find me in a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning my next research trip.
My love of travel, art, and culture inspires my award-winning Zelda Richardson Mystery series, Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries, and standalone stories.
The Lover’s Portrait (Book One) is a suspenseful whodunit about Nazi-looted artwork that transports readers to WWII and present-day Amsterdam. Art, religion, and anthropology collide in Rituals of the Dead (Book Two), a thrilling artifact mystery set in Papua New Guinea and the Netherlands. My pulse-pounding adventure set in the Netherlands, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey— Marked for Revenge (Book Three)—is a story about stolen art, the mafia, and a father’s vengeance.
The Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries are a funny new series featuring tour guide and amateur sleuth, Lana Hansen. Join Lana as she leads tourists and readers to fascinating cities around the globe on intriguing adventures that, unfortunately for Lana, often turn deadly. Book One— Death on the Danube —takes Lana to Budapest for a New Year’s trip. Can Lana figure out who murdered her fellow tour guide before she too ends up floating in the Danube? Death by Baguette: A Valentine’s Day Murder in Paris (Books Two) will be released in February 2020, and Book 3 in May 2020.
I am also the author of Down and Out in Kathmandu , Holiday Gone Wrong , and Notes of a Naive Traveler .
Connect with me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or my website.
I have also started a group for readers and writers of travel fiction and non-fiction – Travel By Book. We are a promotion and discussion group active on Facebook with a growing presence here on Goodreads.
Thanks for stopping by!