Christopher Bowden ~ The Purple Shadow
In the years before the war, Sylvie Charlot was a leading light in Paris fashion with many friends among musicians, artists and writers. Now she is largely forgotten. Spending time in Paris during a break in his acting career, Colin Mallory sees a striking portrait of Sylvie. Some think it is a late work by Édouard Vuillard but there is no signature or documentary evidence to support this view.
The picture has some unusual qualities, not least the presence of a shadow of something that cannot be seen. Perhaps the picture was once larger. Colin feels an odd sense of connection with Sylvie, who seems to be looking at him, appealing to him, wanting to tell him something. Despite a warning not to pursue his interest in her portrait, he is determined to find out more about the painting, who painted it, and why it was hidden for many years.
Colin’s search takes him back to the film and theatre worlds of Paris and London in the 1930s – and to a house in present-day Sussex. As he uncovers the secrets of Sylvie’s past, her portrait seems to take on a life of its own.
For a short book, this manages to pack in a lot. There’s mystery, intrigue, romance and scandal… and most of the story takes place in Paris, which is a magical place.
The author seems to know the city well, and it was nice to read about familiar places, that are less prominent than others. The history of theatre during the Second World War was really interesting, although I would have liked more information.
Characters too could have been further developed to provide a stronger understanding of their motivations and interests. Bryony is mentioned frequently, but we only meet her near the end. We are perhaps supposed to conjure up a certain opinion of her, and the nature of her relationship with Colin, but a little more detail would have helped to better visualise them as a couple.
It’s also a bit unclear as to why everyone was worried about Colin and Paul digging into the past, especially as nothing seems to come of it. But this sense of mystery does keep the interest.
That said, it’s a solid, gentle mystery and Colin is an unlikely sleuth – embodying Charles Kent’s most famous role, with a little dash of humour. A good novella, but lacking in depth and development.
The Purple Shadow is published by Langton & Wood. Book provided by Zooloos Book Tours. Opinions my own.