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THE CLOISTERS by Katy Hays: Book Review

Anyone who has visited The Cloisters in New York City has surely found it to be a magical place.  It is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, although in a separate location, and it is the only museum in the United States that specializes in European medieval art and architecture.

Ann Stilwell has come to Manhattan, expecting to spend the summer as an intern at the Met.  However, circumstances have changed since she was offered that opportunity, so she’s given the choice of doing her internship at The Cloisters or returning to an unhappy home situation in Walla Walla, Washington, a small city she couldn’t wait to leave.  No choice at all, in her opinion.

Ann will be working alongside Rachel Mondray at The Cloisters.  Rachel is also a summer intern but one with a much more impressive background than Ann has.  Both young women will be on the staff of Patrick Roland, the curator, the man who saved Ann from an ignominious return to Walla Walla.

Rachel tells Ann that they will be working with Patrick on an upcoming exhibit on divination, “on the techniques and artworks that were used to tell the future.”  Although neither woman is an expert in this field, both are fascinated by the question of fate.  Was one’s life predestined?  Could one change the course of the future?

Thus begins their study of the history of tarot, or cartomancy; both are similar methods of telling the future with the special tarot cards.  As the summer progresses, Ann learns that Patrick is a true believer in the future as foretold by the tarot cards.  He tells her that he’d like her to be open-minded during her time at The Cloisters, about what people believed in the medieval period.  He continues, “You don’t have to believe in divination for it to have been true for an aristocrat in the fourteenth century.  Even, for it to be true again.”

Ann is captivated by Rachel, by her clothes and her effortless sophistication, but she realizes there are also some less appealing aspects of her new friend.  Rachel enjoys making life just a bit more difficult for Moira, the administrator of The Cloisters, telling small lies, stealing items of foods that she could easily afford to pay for, taking an unauthorized ride on a sailboat that doesn’t belong to her.

Still, when Rachel invites Ann to stay at her luxurious condo after a few days of their meeting, Ann is delighted to vacate her own tiny and stuffy studio.  Their friendship and confidences deepen, although Ann soon realizes it’s she who is doing the confiding, never Rachel.

There’s a definite sense of menace in this novel, although the murder doesn’t happen until halfway into it.  Perhaps it’s the sense that The Cloisters is a secret world, separated from the much larger and more famous Met and one with hidden storage rooms and gardens featuring poisonous plants.

Katy Hays has written a mystery that will keep readers enthralled until its shocking conclusion.  You can read more about the author at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden OldiesPast Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.


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