If you haven't read Katherine Kovacic before, and you like art mixed with crime, you're in for a treat.
Melbourne based Kovacic was a vet but, with a PH D in art history, she changed career course and is now an art historian who works with museums, galleries and historic houses. All of this experience is apparent in The Shifting Landscape, the third her Art Mystery series.
Kovacic's detective is art dealer and valuer Alex Clayton, whose faithful sidekick, Hogarth, is an extremely well-trained and receptive Irish wolfhound.
In The Shifting Landscape, Alex is invited by Alasdair McMIllan (Mac) to visit his property, Kinloch in Western Victoria because he's "got a few paintings, been in the family for donkey's. Time we got them looked at". He has "asked about at the Melbourne Club and your name came up a few times".
Alex believes she will only find a few mediocre paintings and prints but her "treasure hunters heart is already tingling with anticipation". Kinloch, however, "in all its colonial squattocracy glory" is a Scottish baronial mansion with "a riot of corbels and crow-stepped gables with a square tower rising above the two storey house".
Alex discovers that the art in the house lives up to the promise of the exterior. In a shed, among canvases damaged in a fire, she finds a Hugh Ramsay portrait for which she had seen preliminary sketches in the NGA. (If you visited the recent Ramsay exhibition you'll realise whose portrait it is.)
Then above the fireplace in the formal sitting room there's a painting dated 1856. For Alex it's "one of those career moments I live for, and a thrill of excitement runs down my spine". She tells Mac it's worth at least $1 million at auction.
It's very apparent that there are family tensions at Kinloch with arguments about the future of the property. When Mac is murdered, and the painting stolen, Alex decides to leave, but a child goes missing and so does Hogarth. Kinloch quickly becomes a dangerous place to be.
On one level, The Shifting Landscape is a classic country house murder mystery in a distinctive Australian setting, reminiscent for Alex of Arthur Streeton's Land of the Golden Fleece painted in the 1920's when "graziers were lords of the land and Australians dreamed only of future potential and prosperity".
But on another, it's about the dispossession of the original owners, the Gunditjmara people, who were far from nomadic. Alex visits the nearby Budj Bin National Park, a World Heritage site, finding evidence of indigenous stone huts and eel holding pens. She feels sadness for a culture that has been lost, while appreciating the beauty of the landscape that has been preserved.