Book Reviews,  New Releases

{Review} PAINTED, by Kirsten McKenzie

{Review} PAINTED, by Kirsten McKenziePAINTED by Kirsten McKenzie
Published by Squabbling Sparrows Press on June 25, 2017
Genres: Dark Fiction, Fiction, Ghost, Horror, Mystery, Occult & Supernatural, Paranormal, Psychological Horror, Supernatural, Women Sleuths
Pages: 296
Format: Paperback
Buy on Amazon

If art can capture a soul, what happens when one of those souls escapes?

When art appraiser Anita Cassatt is sent to catalogue the extensive collection of reclusive artist Leo Kubin, it isn’t only the chilly atmosphere of the secluded house making her shiver.

Upon entering the house, Anita stands before a silent audience of portraits clustered on every wall. Every painted eye is watching her, including those of the unfinished portrait on the artist’s easel. A portrait with an eerie familiarity.

Kubin’s lawyer didn’t share the detailed instructions regarding the handling of the art, and Anita and her team start work in ignorance of the very instructions designed to keep them safe.

Disturbed, a man eases himself out of his portrait and stretches. Free at last from the confines of his canvas, he has no intention of ever returning. He has a painting to finish…

Perfect for horror lovers of early Stephen King, and Willow Rose.

What readers are saying about PAINTED:
“Caravaggio meets Poltergeist.”
“The chapters where she is alone in the house are so unbelievably spooky.”
“I've finished! OMG it got so tense towards the end.”

PAINTED is not only the first novel I’ve read from author Kirsten McKenzie, but also her first foray into the horror genre. There have long been sayings regarding ‘the eyes being a window to the soul’, and the way that McKenzie choses to utilize this idea to shape her book gives it an incredibly fresh outlook.

When Leo Kubin, an extremely reclusive artist, sends over very specific instructions as to how his vast art collection is to be handled–to the law firm he’d always dealt with–he had no idea about the recent changes there. Mainly, the gentleman who always dealt with his clients in a supportive and protective manner, has died. Unfortunately for the firm’s elderly clients, his son–Alan Gates Jr.–is nothing like his father. Concerned only with the bottom-dollar line for himself, this arrogant, lecherous man disregards Mr. Kubin’s explicit instructions as a senile old man’s nonsense, and more importantly to him, a waste of extra time and money. Therefore, it is without the benefit of these “safety measures” that the company hired to itemize and catalog for auction the contents of the late Mr. Kubin’s vast estate are sent to begin their jobs. Art appraiser, Anita Cassat arrives at the out of the way mansion days before her colleagues, as it is expected that the sheer number of paintings assembled there will take much longer to appraise.

Once there, Anita is instantly filled with a fear that she is being watched, despite being the only human present.

“An audience of eyes, immortalized in portraits clustered on every wall . . . “

McKenzie does an incredible job in the characterization of the people in her novel. With each and every one, I came away with the feeling that I knew them–down to even the secrets they kept hidden from each other. When one of them startles, you can practically see the physical shiver and changes that affect them. These are complete individuals–even the ones that have ceased to exist, as we know it.

“. . . Their eyes the brightest part of every portrait, capturing the essence of their humanity . . . more than the subjects thought they would ever reveal to anyone . . .”

When Anita begins handling the portraits, the uneasy atmosphere in the story begins to ramp up incredibly. The tension remains so thick, that I found it difficult to find a place to stop reading for a time, reluctant to leave the world that was unfolding before me. The portraits are–at first–the primary source of Anita’s apprehension, and plant the seed that something is “off” about this job. As she handled one particular picture, she noted: “. . . The edges were indistinct, and the eyes smudged beyond recognition as if someone had tried to gouge them out . . . “

“. . . It was easy to ignore the known. It was the unknown which made her mouth dry and her pulse race.”

Some elements of the sinister atmosphere the old estate had festered are provided by the few thoughts and comments from an elderly farmer, who’d lived next to it his entire life.

“. . . the house had a reputation . . . Most threw themselves off the cliff and were swallowed by the sea . . . “

There was so much complex mystery entwined in this tale, that just when I thought I figured out something, a new element would present itself to decipher and add to the confusion.

“. . . This wasn’t a life he wanted to lead. It wasn’t his life either. That was over.”

Eventually Anita is joined by her colleagues, each specializing in a different area of appraisement. Even here, McKenzie’s skills shine through as we get to intimately know the new arrivals. The tension–even with the additional bodies–continues to maintain and even increase its presence, until all around harbor a silent fear of . . . something, yet intangible, to them.

“. . . You’re next, you’re next, you’re next.”

This novel literally took my breath away in places. Some of the prose took on dual meanings when faced with an unknown threat. Even the secrets that were revealed remained cloaked in a thin layer of mystery that we, perhaps, weren’t meant to ever unravel.

“Twilight is the master of disguise. The champion of falsehoods and fiction. The eye wasn’t designed for twilight . . . “

While there were moments in the story where the action slowed considerably, overall I felt this novel was a fascinating read, full of explicitly presented atmosphere, realistic characters, and a supernatural force that hadn’t been overdone in other novels. The ideas were shown with a “fresh” approach to the subject matter, leaving behind a shred of mystery for readers to ponder over after they finished.

“. . . Hindsight is a terrible gift when you realize you’ve destroyed more beauty than you created.”

I am greatly looking forward to reading Kirsten McKenzie’s next horror-themed novel.

Highly recommended!

About Kirsten McKenzie

For many years Kirsten McKenzie worked in her family’s antique store, where she went from being allowed to sell the 50c postcards in the corner of Antique Alley as a child, to selling $5,000 Worcester vases and seventeenth century silverware, providing a unique insight into the world of antiques which touches every aspect of her writing.

Her historical fiction novels ‘Fifteen Postcards’ and it’s sequel ‘The Last Letter’ have been described as ‘Time Travellers Wife meets Far Pavilions’, and ‘Antiques Roadshow gone viral’. The third book in the series ‘Telegram Home’ will be released in November 2018 by Accent Press.

Her bestselling gothic horror novel ‘Painted’ was released in 2017, with her medical thriller ‘Doctor Perry’ following closely in April 2018.

She lives in New Zealand with her husband, her daughters, an SPCA rescue cat and a kitten found in the neighbour’s shed, and can usually be found procrastinating on Twitter under the handle @Kiwimrsmac.


I am an avid reader/reviewer and collector of books--primarily horror, supernatural, and supernatural-themed thrillers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *