A novel by Anna Porter
Publisher: ECW Press
Publication date: October 2017
In the vein of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels comes this year’s smart new thriller with literary chops.
When wealthy octogenarian Geza Marton hires art expert Helena Marsh to buy back his family’s Titian painting, Helena flies to Budapest to close what she expects will be a reasonably simple sale. But nothing is ever simple in this beautiful, flawed city where corruption abounds. Helena discovers that there are multiple bidders for the painting, including some dangerous Slavs. Soon there are also dead bodies, and a complicated history that leads her to men Marton knew in Vorkuta, one of Stalin’s notorious gulags.
As she works to unravel the truth of the painting’s ownership and dodges her tail, the dogged ex-detective Attila Feher, Helena is forced to call on all her considerable skills to stay alive and out of jail. Smart, fast-paced, and wildly entertaining, The Appraisal is a terrific thriller set against Budapest’s corruption and lost promise.
The Appraisal was shortlisted for the inaugural Staunch Book Prize in the UK.
Update (April 2023): The Appraisal has been optioned for a TV movie.
An Excerpt from The Appraisal
An excerpt from the Appraisal appeared in the Winter edition of the Queen’s Quarterly.
Reviews of The Appraisal
If you want to take a quick trip to Budapest, this book is your ride. Anna Porter knows the byways and cafés of her native town and spins a web of mystery around an art heist, Ukrainian criminals and money laundering. In short, we have everything we want in an Eastern European crime novel. The backstory is simple. A Hungarian-Canadian zillionaire named Gezy Marton hires Helena Marsh, art expert, to buy back his stolen Titian painting. Helena, an art historian and expert, heads for Budapest to do business. But nothing is as straightforward as Helena thinks. Many people want this painting and is the Titian the real painting? Or was Marton’s painting a forgery all along? The art-world intrigue has plenty of action for anyone, but Porter doesn’t stop there. There are some dated bits (Helena’s action heroine disguising herself in the traditional red hair with legs up to here and cleavage to there) as well as digressions that bog down the narrative. In short, a bit too much for one book but a terrific peek at modern Budapest.
, (The Globe and Mail, November 30, 2017)
Helena Marsh is an art expert who specializes in recovering lost paintings on behalf of the real owners. This takes talents well beyond a sharp eye for a brush stroke. The beguiling Helena has all the right stuff: a gift for disguises, the nerve to pull off the occasional b and e, and a deadly thing she can do with the flick of a knife.
On assignment to round up a large painting by Titian on behalf of a Hungarian-Canadian millionaire, Helena flies into Budapest where most of the novel takes place. Nothing turns out to be simple, or even legal, about Helena’s job. She rubs up against nasty rivals at every turn, and a likeable slob of a local PI named Attila is regularly on her tail. All of this is daring and mystifying fun, and includes along the way a tour through everything that’s fascinating about Budapest’s history, especially the appalling bits.
Jack Batten, (The Toronto Star)
“Porter (Bookfair Murders) delivers an intelligent and exhilarating thriller following art expert Helena Marsh’s mission to restore a Titian painting to its rightful owner, Géza Márton. The story reaches back to 1945, when Géza was taken prisoner but survived several years in a Soviet labor camp. In the present, Géza, now a wealthy merchant living in Canada, hires Helena to help him buy the painting back from the mysterious János Krestin. Several other buyers are interested in bidding on the painting, which results in a few dead bodies along the way. The story is told in part from the point of view of Attila Feher, a former policeman working as a private investigator. He is hired to tail Helena and push her to leave the country, but his interest in the case shifts as he delves deeper into it. Much of the intrigue involves Hungary’s complex history of occupation and oppression, as well as past deeds and identities that characters are hiding or trying to forget. Helena is a cunning chameleon, skilled in self-defense. Porter’s stylish story vividly transports readers to Budapest and other European locales and keeps them hooked as her well-developed characters navigate corruption and deception.”
(Publishers Weekly, August 7, 2017)
“Verifying the authenticity of a controversial Titian proves a deadly assignment for a resourceful, and not entirely lawful, art appraiser.
While enjoying the summer bustle in Budapest’s Vörösmarty Square, Attila Feher watches a long-legged redhead who has a short exchange with a man Attila recognizes as the slightly disreputable owner of a posh art shop before she makes a beeline for the Gellért Hotel. Retired from the Budapest Police Department but still in possession of his detective skills, Attila follows. The redhead’s name is Helena Marsh, the red hair is a wig, and at the Gellért she totally changes her appearance. Porter discloses the reason for her deceptions, and her presence in Budapest, in tantalizing bits. Helena’s been brought to the city to verify the authenticity of a Titian being sold by local Dr. Krestin. Helena’s a thorn in the side of some felonious “Ukrainians.” Porter’s offbeat thriller yields tension and humor from its revolving perspectives as well as its deep bench of colorful supporting characters, all obsessed with nationality, be they Canadian, Russian, American, or something else. When a murder victim is discovered in Helena’s hotel room, Attila reveals that he’s working freelance for the Budapest police but, when push comes to shove, will he stand with or against Helena?
This peppy thriller from Porter (Kasztner’s Train, 2008, etc.) bursts with banter and tantalizes the reader with half-revelations and game-changing twists. Not a nail-biter but definitely a romp.”
(Kirkus Review, August 3, 2017)