Inkwater Press, 2015
A Latina heroine is rare for fiction especially genre. As a heroine, Sabrina is from a working poor Colombian family in Chicago. She carves out a niche for herself at Yale in astronomy. She’s not a scientist or mathematician, yet, even though her advisers all encourage her and she’s a lock for MIT as a graduate. Rather, she’s a wonderful example of what a liberal arts education can create, a woman who can carve a sure path in the world using her broad intellect to overcome obstacles.The odds are against her from the get-go but Sabrina only knows how to overcome. As when she has to play dumb around some German hitmen, “Playing dumb was easy. Whenever I helped my mother with officials, filling in this form or that, dealing with her landlord or welfare agents–everyone expected me to be an idiot, and I had honed being stupid to almost perfection. Now, I employed my technique to its fullest.”
The detective work that Sabrina has to do to find Danielle revolves around her educating herself about 17th century Dutch painting. Facilitating and standing in her way is Whitmore Verhaast, a Yale professor who made a name for himself as a wunderkind authenticating re-discovered masterworks and quietly amassing a fortune doing so. He casts a far shadow in the art world while often lecherously and menacingly lording over the art history academy. He is the dark side of the Dan Brown’s hero, Robert Langdon. Verhaast is the real face of Langdon–racist, sexist, violent in his privilege, and ultimately a coward.
It is wonderful to read a thriller that not only presents a fresh protagonist but also a strong friendship between two brilliant young women. These are not damsels nor does Halaban present them as bitter or vindictive, the kind of lazy writing that infects most storytelling. The art history talked about is engaging and never extraneous or dull, and Halaban includes some lovely images of Vermeer’s paintings to help readers visualize. This thriller moves quickly and directly; readers will finish The Vermeer Conspiracy feeling satisfied and pleased having been introduced to a wonderful new heroine in Sabrina Gutierrez.