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Tuesday 12 September 2023

My Coffee Pot Guest:Heidi Eljarbo - The London Forgery

 A Fabiola Bennett Mystery, Book 1

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About the Book

Book Title: The London Forgery

Series: A Fabiola Bennett Mystery

Author: Heidi Eljarbo

Publication Date: 29th August 2023

Page Length: about 252

Genre: Historical Mystery / dual timeline historical fiction

1973. Art historian Fabiola Bennett sees herself as a prudently observant deer who becomes a daring and even mischievous lioness if the situation calls for it. And that’s exactly what’s required when greedy criminals steal, forge, and tamper with treasured artwork. When the crooks add murder to their list of crimes, the chaos is complete.

A mysterious note is delivered anonymously at the door of the National Gallery in London, and the director immediately calls Fabiola’s office in Oslo and pleads with her to come without delay. The message is confusing, but it seems one of her favorite eighteenth-century portraits is in trouble.

Fabiola hops on the first plane and meets up with her vibrant side-kick Pippa Yates and the ever-loyal Detective Inspector Cary Green from New Scotland Yard. But she is not naïve enough to think untangling the purpose and meaning of the mysterious note will be as simple as a walk in Hyde Park. These things never are.

1750. Newly married Robert and Frances Andrews, members of the landed gentry of Suffolk, England, hire young and talented Thomas Gainsborough to paint their wedding portrait. Their desire is a lovely conversation piece showing their wealth and class, an artwork to remember them by for generations to come.

Little do they know the gifted artist portrays their personalities exactly how he perceives them, and the artistic symbolism is not as flattering as they’d hoped for. Even the looming clouds in the distance promise a troublesome future.

This is the first book in a new dual timeline series by Heidi Eljarbo—an intriguing spin-off from the much-loved Soli Hansen Mysteries.

Fans of Lucinda Riley, Rhys Bowen, Kathleen McGurl, Kate Morton, and Katherine Neville will love this cozy historical art mystery, which takes the readers back to the nostalgia of the groovy seventies and the classical Georgian era of the eighteenth century.


Read An Excerpt

The London Forgery

Cary turned to Fabiola. “Mysterious note? What’s that about?”

Director Wilson showed him the note and presented the details about the time and place of the anonymous message’s sudden appearance.

He read the note and then lifted his eyebrows. “Peculiar sentence. Almost theatrical or old-fashioned.”

The director nodded. “This could very well be a hoax, but I’ve called on Fabiola here to help us in case there actually is something amiss.”

Cary smiled at her. “A clever move.”

“Yes, she’s helped us many times when we’ve needed advice or assistance. This time I’m not exactly sure what the problem is or if there truly is one. The note we received is curious, to say the least. We hope it’s nothing serious, but my gut tells me it is. That’s why I’d like you here, as well, Detective Inspector Green… I mean, in case we need help from the Metropolitan Police.”

Cary frowned, causing deep creases to appear on his forehead. “Before we continue, please tell me, who are Mr. and Mrs. Andrews? Art dealers? The Bonny and Clyde of art theft? Who are they?”

Director Wilson spoke in a low voice. “It’s a priceless British masterpiece—an eighteenth-century portrait—much loved and well-known.”

Both men turned to Fabiola.

She paused a moment, then said, “I’m afraid the mysterious note is not a prank. I’ve spent the afternoon in room thirty-five studying the Gainsborough painting, and I’m sad to tell you, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews—the painting on the wall upstairs—is a forgery.”

The museum director placed his palms on his puffy cheeks. “No. No. No. I had a horrible feeling about that message, as if something was very wrong.” He got up and grabbed his hat and trench coat from the coat stand. “I don’t feel well and think I’ll call it a day. Fabiola, you may use the vacant office down the hall. The files and binders you’ve worked with before are still there. Anything else you want, just let me know. And remember…not a word about this to anyone. At least for now. After all, at this point, everyone is a potential suspect…even people who work in this building.” He started toward the door but retraced his steps and put a hand on Fabiola’s and Cary’s shoulders.

“Mrs. Bennett…Fabiola…put the mysterious note back in its envelope and guard it for me, will you? I need you both here until we solve this matter.”

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About the Author

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 fifteen 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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My review

Of course I have heard of the painting Mr and Mrs Andrews by Thomas Gainsborough, but I've never seen the actual portrait, nor did I know much about it and was, therefore, ignorant of the unfinished patch on Mrs Andrews' lap, or the story behind the people and the painting. All of which added a great deal of interest to Ms Eljarbo's novel, The London Forgery.

The premise of the plot was well crafted and intriguing. (No spoilers, suffice to say the painting hanging in the National Gallery is discovered to be a forgery.) The author clearly knows her stuff where art is concerned, and I was interested enough to Google for more information about the painting, Gainsborough, and Mr and Mrs Andrews.

I especially enjoyed Ms Eljarbo's dual-time element of  re-creating scenes with Mr Gainsborough and his wife Margaret, and the Andrews, which naturally included these characters' feelings and thoughts behind the creation of the painting. Very cleverly done.

The mystery side of the novel, and another crime which was committed later in the story, was as intriguing as the history of the painting itself. Unravelling what was amiss with the painting, how it was a forgery, who was responsible for the forgery and where was the original painting, was absorbing reading, well researched and very plausible. (I can well imagine the curators at the National Gallery now going to have another careful scrutiny of the painting - especially given the current (2023) hoo-ha surrounding the stolen treasures at the British Museum!)

I personally would have liked more scenes set in the 1700s with Gainsborough and co. These were superb, I enjoyed them immensely, and I must be honest, I think I would have liked the plot written the other way round, with the main story being the painting's creation, and the dual timeline element being the forgery mystery set in 1973, but to be fair this is not what the author intended and my own preference is for history rather than art!

I felt fully immersed into the 1700s, but wasn't quite as convinced about being 'there' in the 1970s. There was enough detail - clothing, type of car etc, but maybe Fabiola and her friends were just a tad too 21st-century for 1973 - I think we tend to forget that life and attitudes were vey different back then.

This is also very nit-picky, but I found the American spelling irritating, possibly because this is a very English subject, set in a very English period with, mostly, very English characters. (Did I miss something? Was Fabiola American? I assumed she was European, so why the Americanisms, which clashed a little.)

The cover is attractive, but I wonder why the author chose to use the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Bridge, which have nothing to do with the story, except to convey a London setting, rather than the iconic Trafalgar Square, where the National Gallery is located - or better still the Gainsborough painting itself? (Although maybe the latter is because of ©?)

However, all that aside, The London Forgery is a must for anyone interested in art and is a very good start to what promises to be a compelling  series.

**** 4 stars

Mr and Mrs Andrews, Wikipedia


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Hashtags: #TheLondonForgery #fabiolabennett #DualTimelineMystery #BlogTour #TheCoffeePotBookClub

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  1. Thanks so much for hosting Heidi Eljarbo today with an enticing excerpt, but also for your lovely review of The London Forgery.

    Cathie xx
    The Coffee Pot Book Club


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