One hidden painting. Two women born centuries apart. A secret uncovered.
In 2019, Rachel is stuck in a rut when she discovers what appears to be a Canaletto painting in her grandmother’s loft along with a note addressed to Philippa in 1782. With help from Jake at the local art gallery, Rachel endeavours to find out if the painting is an original and uncovers a secret from the past.
In 1780, governess at Chipford Hall, Philippa is offered the role of mistress by Earl Rupert. She escapes to Venice as companion to bluestocking, Lady Cordelia who reveals a secret that changes both their lives. They do their best to keep the secret from Lady Cordelia’s social circle, but their nemesis is determined to reveal all and ruin them.
Publisher: Neets Press
Format: Ebook (inc Kindle Unlimited), Paperback (7 March 2023)
Source: Ecopy for review
My thanks to Anne Cater for the invite and for arranging for an ecopy of the book to be provided. Although I’m not a writer, I’ve been following Anita on social media for some years and have enjoyed her author interviews and informative posts. When given the opportunity to review her debut novel – historical fiction and partly set in Venice, I couldn’t resist.
The Venice Secret is a dual time story, set during 2019 with Rachel Brown and the early 1780s with Phillipa Elliott. Twenty year old Phillipa is forced to leave her family for work following the unexpected death of her pastor father. The family was left in dire straits financially and she felt the responsibility on her young shoulders. She obtains a position as a governess at Chipford Hall looking after the Duke of Oxon’s two young daughters. All is going well – until it doesn’t for various reasons and Phillipa has to face change and upheaval yet again.
In the modern day, Rachel is living in her mother’s home, having been made redundant. At a loose end, she finds a painting in the loft together with apparent provenance and her quest to discover whether the painting is a genuine Canaletto and how it came to be in her mother’s loft connects the two timelines. I enjoy watching the BBC’s Fake or Fortune art programme, and the stages that Rachel goes through to try and solve this mystery was fascinating.
I do love a dual timeline and I was particularly captivated by the historical story here, told by alternate chapters. Phillipa was such an engaging character, sensible and kindhearted and her association with Lady Cordelia was superbly told. Both location (whether a country house or the Grand Tour) and characters are vividly described, at times with a background undercurrent of trouble and danger.
I enjoyed both timelines immensely but have to say I did struggle a little with Rachel and even though I found her story interesting, I didn’t initially warm to her character as much. For me, Rachel was 26 going on 16 and I was frustrated by her poor decisions, particularly when she seemed to be carrying out acts of self sabotage. In fairness though, I did feel some sympathy for her, she didn’t have the best of backgrounds, and I was hoping that she would find happiness.
The Venice Secret is an extremely promising debut with both female leads facing their share of drama. Well plotted and researched, the story is rich with vivid descriptions and a mix of characters ranging from engaging and intriguing to just awful. Best of all, the two threads combined so well and the entire story of intrigue with a touch of romance kept my interest all the way through. I look forward to reading more from Anita Chapman.
Anita Chapman enjoyed writing stories from a young age, and won a local writing competition when she was nine years old. Encouraged by this, she typed up a series of stories about a mouse on her mum’s typewriter and sent them to Ladybird. She received a polite rejection letter, her first.
Many of Anita’s summers growing up were spent with her family driving to Italy, and she went on to study French and Italian at university. As part of her degree, Anita lived in Siena for several months where she studied and au paired, and she spent a lot of time travelling around Italy in her twenties.
Anita likes to read journals and diaries from the past, and one of her favourite pastimes is visiting art galleries and country houses. Her first published novel, The Venice Secret is inspired by her mother taking her to see the Canalettos at The National Gallery in London as a child.
Since 2015, Anita has worked as a social media manager, training authors on social media, and helping to promote their books. She’s run several courses in London and York, and has worked as a tutor at Richmond and Hillcroft Adult Community College.