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What I'm Reading Wednesday: The Artist Colony by Joanna Fitzpatrick

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Happy Wednesday, My Lovelies!  Today I'm sharing a literary murder mystery with you entitled The Artist Colony by Joanna FitzPatrick.  I jumped at the chance to be a part of this book tour when I realized that the book is set in one of my favorite places in the world, Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

According to Goodreads:

From the historical fiction author of Katherine Mansfield comes a bold, creative and unexpected mystery.

In Joanna FitzPatrick’s charming and gripping new novel, set in 1924, Sarah Cunningham arrives in Carmel-by-the-Sea from Paris to bury her estranged older sister, Ada Belle. En route, Sarah was stunned to learn that Ada Belle’s death had been categorized as a suicide. The inquest’s verdict makes no sense. Ada Belle’s reputation was growing: her plein air paintings regularly sold out, and she was about to show her portraits for the first time, which would have catapulted her career.

What begins as a short trip to bid Ada Belle adieu turns into a protracted stay for Sarah. She puts her own artistic career on hold and, trailed by Ada Belle’s devoted dog, Albert, becomes a secret sleuth, a task made harder by the misogyny and racism she discovers in this seemingly idyllic locale. From the posh Hotel del Monte to the windswept sands of Carmel Beach to Robinson Jeffers’s Tor House to Point Lobos’s Whalers Cove, Sarah immerses herself in the women’s artist colony to discover Ada Belle’s secrets—and to expose a killer.

Part mystery, part historical fiction, this engrossing novel celebrates the artistic talents of early women painters, the deep bonds of sisterhood, the muse that is beautiful scenery, and the dogged determination of one young woman to discover the truth, to protect an artistic legacy, and to give her sister the farewell she deserves.  

My Review:

What I found the most fascinating about this book is the sibling rivalry of the two sisters, Ada Belle and Sarah.  Sarah feels as if she is competing against her famous and talented sister, and there is definitely some resentment on Sarah's side because Ada Belle sold their New York apartment and built a cottage in the California artist colony of Carmel-by-the-Sea.  Sarah, studying art in Paris,  hasn't communicated with her sister in months.  Then she receives a telegram stating that Ada Belle is dead, and would she please travel to California for the inquest.  While on the train right outside of Carmel, Sarah learns that the inquest proceeded without her and determined the cause of Sarah's death as suicide.  Sarah is in shock and disbelief.

Sarah moves into her sister's cottage, The Sketch Box.  Carmel to this day doesn't have any house numbers, and most artists during this time named their cottages.  She was shocked to learn that Ada Belle, known as an "en plein aire" landscape artist,  had become a bit obsessive about her new series of portraits; all of the portraits in the series are missing, and now Sarah has two mysteries to solve.  But the clock is ticking because Sarah has a solo show of her own coming up soon in a respected gallery in Paris that needs her attention.

The point of view switches from omniscient to first person (Sarah's), and I liked that when the POV's change, Sarah's point of view is italicized.  During these brief scenes, we get a sense of what the two sisters' relationship was like, although we're only privy to one side of the story.  It almost has a magical realism element as these internal dialogues with Ada Belle become increasingly helpful to Sarah as she gets closer to solving her sister's murder.  The eerie marine layer fog that sometimes covers Carmel adds to the mystery and ghostly atmosphere of the story.

Joanna FitzPatrick did an amazing job researching the history of Carmel as well as oil painting.  She even mentions Paris green, a deadly oil paint that achieves its beautiful emerald green hue with arsenic.  Although oil paints were more dangerous then, with heavier levels of lead, etc., oil paints are still toxic today with hydrocarbons and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, cobalt, and barium added as pigment.  One of the minor characters in the novel is none other than Robinson Jeffers, the poet.  His Tor House is even featured in a party scene in the book.

Hawk Tower at Tor House
Learn more about Tor House HERE.

One of the most compelling characters in the novel is Sirena, who is half-Japanese, half-Portuguese and passes for white.  A talented artist, she lies about her identity in order to participate in the arts in Carmel and take classes. It is a reminder of the book Imitation of Life, and I enjoyed reading more about how Japanese Americans were treated even before the internment camps of World War II.

If you like historical fiction set during the roaring twenties, murder mysteries, and stories with creative characters, then you should love The Artist Colony.  

Disclosure:  I received a paperback copy of The Artist Colony from the publisher (She Writes Press) via TLC Book Tours in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Thank-you for allowing me to be a part of the tour!

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Until next time...

Happy reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. Just added this to my list after reading your review! xo Diana

  2. I've never been to Carmel, but I've always wanted to go. Maybe I can take a trip there via the book!!

  3. Hi Ricki, I am so impressed by your talent as a graphic artist and a reviewer. You got my story!!! Great job. I too would read "The Artist Colony" after reading your reviw, if I hadn't already written it. Thank you. JF. P.S. Sorry to ask but could you share your review on Amazon. I'm told my book will be torn to shreds by algorithm assassins stalking thru the Amazon jungle if I don't ask this from my readers and reviewers!

  4. Well, this sounds like something I would love. Carmel (so beautiful!), art (my thing!) a mystery (my favorite genre!). A wonderful premise and also a wonderful review.

  5. This sounds amazing. I love Carmel by the Sea how beautiful and colorful it is there so I can imagine how the setting is wonderful for this story. Happy Thursday. xoxo Kris

  6. I agree with Jeanie, art, mystery, beautiful scenery, what's not to love!

  7. I am for sure adding this to my TBR for 2022, it sounds fascinating. Thank you for being on this tour! Sara @ TLC Book Tours

  8. Sounds intriguing RJ and I plan to read this. I love that it's set in Carmel-by-the-Sea......Enjoyed both reviews.

  9. It sounds amazing. I need to find time to read more. Happy Sunday Ricki. xo

  10. Ooh, I think I would like this book! Sister rivalry, the 1920s, and we have actually visited Carmel-by-the-sea....all of these would bring the story to life for me!


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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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