Barrister Trish Maguire has been asked by Sir Henry Buxford to discretely investigate the Gregory Bequest, his art trust that manages a French collection gathered during the First World War and brought to London. Sir Henry suspects something fishy but it's vital no word of his concerns leaks out until there's proof of wrong doing.
Trish's priority is well-being of her half-brother David, whose existence she has only recently discovered and who has come to live with her. On the other hand Sir Henry is influential and powerful, and she's still at the beginning of her career. She agrees to take on the case and is rapidly thrust into a complex world of dealing, valuation and fraud that stretches back almost eighty years.
Woven through the current text is the story of Helen, an English nurse stationed in France in 1917, her lover Jean-Pierre Gregoire, and their child. The historical section spans 1917 to 1925 and adds details to the main story as well as an interesting texture to the narrative as a whole.
Cooper's style is deft and light, seamlessly integrating atmosphere, character and plot with the odd light note ("She remembered the old joke about the extrovert actuary being the one who looked at your shoes rather than of his own"). Though not my usual approach, and born of disorganisation rather than intent, reading this series out of order has added another layer to my experience. The seeds for her relationships with David and partner George, as well as they with each other, are present at the beginning, and I am more aware of her transition as a character than I believe would have been the case had I read the series chronologically. That said, I'm not planning on deliberately reading any series out of order in the future, but it's given me an interesting perspective. - Alex