Friday 12 November 2021

#BookReview - Hidden Masterpiece (Soli Hansen Mysteries, Book 3) by Heidi Eljarbo #HistoricalMystery #DualTimeline @HeidiEljarbo

Hidden Masterpiece
(Soli Hansen Mysteries, Book 3)
By Heidi Eljarbo

Publication Date: 15th September 2021
Publisher: Independently Published
Page Length: 260 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery, Dual Timeline

In this riveting third book in the Soli Hansen Mysteries series, a woman’s courage to follow her conviction during a horrible war leads her to the portrait of a young Jewish heiress painted three centuries earlier.

Norway 1944. Art historian Soli Hansen has gone undercover to rescue masterpieces and keep them from falling into the hands of Nazi thieves. Working with a small resistance group led by her best friend Heddy, Soli will stop at nothing to thwart the efforts of the invaders of their scenic country. Trust and loyalty mean everything when working against a merciless enemy.

Riddles and clues lead the way to a mysterious work of art. It’s a race against time, but Soli and her network refuse to give up. However, when news arrives that her sweetheart Nikolai is missing in action, she strives to concentrate on the demanding quest.

From the streets of Oslo to the snow-covered mountains and medieval churches of Nume Valley, Soli takes risks larger than her courage, trying to preserve and hide precious art. But she must decide if it’s all worth losing the man she loves.

Antwerp 1639. Fabiola Ruber’s daughter, Annarosa, wants to honor her mother’s last wish and have her portrait done by a master artist who specializes in the art of chiaroscuro. Her uncle writes to an accomplished painter in Amsterdam and commissions him to paint his beloved niece.

Struggling with religious and social persecution, the Jewish Ruber family uproots once again and travels northward. On the way, they will sojourn in Amsterdam for Annarosa’s sitting in the master painter’s studio. But will they make it there? None of them can foresee the danger of such a journey.

If the Germans only knew. She pushed away the thought, refusing to allow fear to take hold. She swallowed back her misgivings and kept walking. Worrying often led to mistakes, and she couldn’t afford to make a single one now. 

Soli Hansen had in her possession a ledger that held many tantalising clues as to the existence and the whereabouts of several famous Baroque paintings. Soli is determined to find the paintings and hide them before the Nazi treasure hunters do. If the Nazis do find them, the paintings will be lost for good.

To her delight, the ledger has hints and references to an unknown painting by the famous Dutch artist, Rembrandt van Pijn. The race is on—can Soli find the painting and hide the artwork before the enemy learns of its existence?

Hidden Masterpiece (Soli Hansen Mysteries, Book 3) by Heidi Eljarbo is a gripping account of occupied Norway during World War Two. 

Eljarbo has a seemingly visceral understanding of what makes history worth reading. The impressive narrative and the realism of the characters made this novel unputdownable. Having read the first two books of the Soli Hansen Mysteries, I was really looking forward to reading Book 3. Hidden Masterpiece (Soli Hansen Mysteries, Book 3) exceeded my expectations. Eljarbo has presented her readers with a gripping account of occupation, persecution, betrayal and resistance. This dazzling portrait brought this era vividly back to life. 

Eljarbo has depicted a country that is struggling under the heavy weight of occupation. It is a desperate time, but the occasional flood of light tempers the brooding darkness of the occupying forces. Such things may seem small —the joy of eating a cinnamon roll, a warm soft bed, a reunion with a loved one— but they give the characters in this novel hope. Hope that one day, they will take their country back and once again live in a society that they recognise and can understand. Soli treads a fine line between darkness and light. In this shadowy world where she walks lurks danger, death and destruction. But to fight the darkness, one must learn to use it to their advantage, to beat the enemy at their own game and snatch victories, no matter how small, as often as possible. Soli and her friends live in the constant hope that the dark fascist oppressor will one day be vanquished by the light, but until that day happens then they would do everything possible to harass, torment and spread fear in the German ranks.

Soli has always been an unlikely hero. In Book 1, she unwittingly joins the resistance. It is only when she realised that the Nazis were pillaging priceless artwork that she becomes committed to the cause. Soli is all about the paintings, that is her driving goal. She wants to protect the paintings, save as many as she can, and she will go to extraordinary lengths to do so. In a time when so many were being slaughtered and abused, her priority may seem somewhat misplaced. Her thoughts should perhaps have been towards those who had owned the paintings and what had happened to them, rather than the painting themselves. It is true that paintings cannot be replaced but nor can people's lives. Soli is not blinded by what is going on around her, but she is blinkered. She has no idea what happened to the original owners of the paintings, nor does she have any idea as to what had happened to the Jewish population who lived in Norway. To a reader with the gift of hindsight, this did at times make Soli appear incredibly naive. But when the occupational forces controlled what you heard and saw, I can understand how this would manifest into such naivety, and perhaps there is also that little voice of denial. Soli did not want to think about what might have happened to them.

Soli is not someone who screams defiance, although when she sets her mind to something she certainly will follow it through to the end. Saying that however, she is incredibly reliant on Heddy to guide her through this journey which she now finds herself upon. Soli does care very deeply for her friends, and she is very grateful for those who support the resistance and helps them, but deep down she is a frightened young woman who is trying to come to terms with the terrible reality of her situation and she also lives in constant fear that something awful is going to happen to those whom she loves. 

Soli is a character that one cannot help but admire. Her passion and her dedication to preserving these famous paintings are commendable. But it is her capacity to forgive that makes her one of those unforgettable characters, which is evident in her reaction to Ingrid’s terrible confession. She does not rise to anger, instead, she puts the kettle on. Soli does not see things in black and white, it is as if she views the world, and the people that are in it, in a kaleidoscope of colours. Soli is a protagonist that is very easy to like and her story is utterly compelling. I thought her depiction was fabulous.

In the face of overwhelming odds, there were those who were determined to finish the game, they refuse to fold. The novel portrays a resistance movement that is not only courageous but it is also one that is determined to succeed. The Milorg was made up of ordinary men and women, who in times of peace would live ordinary lives, but to save the country they were willing to fight, they risked their lives for a cause greater than themselves. And although this series follows the resistance's attempts to hide valuable artwork from the Nazis, there is no getting away from the danger. The Nazis were ruthless and the fear that the Gestapo especially brought to the table came across as very real in the telling. But, to counter that, the camaraderie of the resistance fighters, those “boys in the woods” brought a sense of nationalist pride to the story. The country may be defeated but the people were far from being vanquished.

One of the most sobering aspects of this novel is the treatment of the Jews throughout history. The novel explores two very different timelines, but there is one theme that runs through both and that is the destructive power of antisemitism. The owners of these precious paintings, the Rubers, have experienced generations of systematic abuse. Despite their success, despite which era they are in, the Rubers are always looking over their shoulders. The displacement, the constant harassment, was seemingly leading up to an almost climatic collectiveness of horrors that the Jews would be forced to endure before the Allied victory. The fact that no one in Norway knew what was happening to their Jewish neighbours, the ignorance of the true horrors, casts a shadow over the whole operation that Soli is involved in. Paintings are of value and have to be saved. If Soli had an inclination to what happened to the owners of these paintings then I would think this novel would have had a completely different feel to it and the paintings would have taken on a significance that would have been completely unrelated to their worth.

This series keeps getting better and better. It is so tantalisingly brilliant that each page becomes a voyage of discovery. I thought Hidden Masterpiece (Soli Hansen Mysteries, Book 3) by Heidi Eljarbo was fabulous from beginning to end. This series deserves a place on your bookshelf and in your heart.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde
The Coffee Pot Book Club


This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

Heidi Eljarbo is the bestselling author of historical fiction and mysteries filled with courageous and good characters that are easy to love and others you don't want to go near.

Heidi grew up in a home filled with books and artwork and she never truly imagined she would do anything other than write and paint. She studied art, languages, and history, all of which have come in handy when working as an author, magazine journalist, and painter.

After living in Canada, six US states, Japan, Switzerland, and Austria, Heidi now calls Norway home. She and her husband have a total of nine children, thirteen grandchildren—so far—in addition to a bouncy Wheaten Terrier.

Their favorite retreat is a mountain cabin, where they hike in the summertime and ski the vast, white terrain during winter.

Heidi’s favorites are family, God's beautiful nature, and the word whimsical.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx