The protagonist of Alex Dolan’s thriller The Empress of Tempera is a young art student studying in New York, renaming herself and reinventing herself from the criminal Maine family she left behind, currently involved in a relationship with artist Derek Rosewood, whose exhibit is being hung at The Fern Gallery.

Paire Anjou heads there to meet up with Derek Rosewood, and as she approaches, she’s struck by the elderly gentleman staring at the painting hanging in the window. As she gets closer, the man moans, and suddenly stabs himself in the heart, dropping to the ground at her feet. Despite Paire’s efforts to resuscitate him, the man dies and she finds herself covered in his blood. It’s only then she finds her eyes drawn to the display window and the painting that mesmerized this man.

The Empress is an almost life-size portrait of a woman in a bright red embroidered Asian dress, sitting in a provocative pose, and she engenders powerful emotions in people who view her. Gallery visitors faint; some write her love letters; others try to steal her.

This is Paire’s introduction to the power art can exert, and in researching the painting, she finds it by a Chinese artist known as Qi, whose body of work has vanished. Qi had lived in the US and returned to China at some point and has died.

Paire also finds one of the wealthiest families in New York has wanted to possess the Empress, and a forty-year feud between them and Qi had been waged. And it’s still going on.

It’s an eye opener for Paire, who starts to work at the Fern Gallery and is exposed to the controversy. Meanwhile, her relationship with Rosewood leads her to escapes that speak to her genetic makeup, with unexpected results.

Dolan, the son of two artists, immerses the reader in the world of art and its effects on people’s natures as well as our culture. He’s also concocted an unusual thriller with unexpected twists and turns in the story that will attract readers as it exposes them to a world that many won’t have known existed in several planes.