STARRED REVIEW
August 2018

An empty space where her portrait should hang

By Fiona Davis

Fiona Davis has established herself as a master of historical settings and fictional recollections of those worlds. Her debut, The Dollhouse, pulled readers into a long-kept secret at New York City’s Barbizon Hotel for Women. Davis’ sophomore effort, The Address, explored Manhattan’s Dakota apartment building and the lives lived there, separated by a century. And with The Masterpiece, Davis shows yet again that New York’s historic structures are apt settings for intrigue.

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Fiona Davis has established herself as a master of historical settings and fictional recollections of those worlds. Her debut, The Dollhouse, pulled readers into a long-kept secret at New York City’s Barbizon Hotel for Women. Davis’ sophomore effort, The Address, explored Manhattan’s Dakota apartment building and the lives lived there, separated by a century. And with The Masterpiece, Davis shows yet again that New York’s historic structures are apt settings for intrigue.

Grand Central Terminal once served not only as a temple of travel but also as the home for the Grand Central School of Art, where (mostly male) artists lived bohemian lives with the prestigious school at their center. In Davis’ story, a sole female teacher, Clara Darden, struggles to make her way as an artist in a decisively male-dominated world. She sees some success as an illustrator, but there’s no trace of Clara after 1931.

Some 35 years later, the terminal is no longer the architectural masterpiece it once was. After her divorce, single mother Virginia Clay finds temporary work at Grand Central’s information booth. The job begins as a way to stay afloat, but when Virginia stumbles upon the art school, abandoned in 1944, she becomes obsessed with both learning its history and saving the transportation hub in which it resides.

Davis expertly switches between the lives of Clara and Virginia, weaving their struggles for independence and security with Grand Central’s history. Readers will be drawn into the lives of these remarkable women—and, alongside Virginia, into the mystery of what happened to Clara.

 

This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece

By Fiona Davis
Dutton
ISBN 9781524742959

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