The Artist’s Touch by E.J. Russell is the second edition of a novella formerly entitled, Northern Lights. The paranormal story centers on a washed-up art fraud investigator, Luke Morganstern, who has been contacted by an anonymous client to check out a small gallery who has a painting by a deceased artist that has never before been seen. When Luke realizes that the painting is indeed a forgery and that the painter is holed up in a remote cabin, he goes to investigate. Little does he expect to see his former lover in residence and looking as though he is terrified of the very art he is being accused of forging.
It turns out that Stefan has indeed been making the paintings, but is completely unaware of doing so. For months, he has been waking up after a night of drinking to find he has painted a picture with no knowledge of doing so. As the two men grapple with feelings for each other that have never gone away, they attempt to figure out just what or who is using Stefan to create the pictures. The closer they get to the truth, the more it becomes clear that something is behind the mysterious work and that Stefan is in danger of losing more than his memory—he is in danger of losing his very life.
I really like the premise of this book. The paranormal aspect was well done and definitely a bit creepy, particularly when Luke is dragged into the entire mess. The chemistry between Luke and Stefan was undeniable, and the idea that they two have never gotten over each other despite it being a few years since they were together was believable. If there had been more explanation about their former relationship, I felt it really would have added to the story overall. As it was, the lack of information on their backstory hurt the novella overall, making it feel a bit disjointed and incomplete. I appreciated the story of the artist whose paintings Stefan was channeling and found myself really wishing the author had taken the same amount of time on the two main characters. Then there was Stefan’s benefactor who ended up playing a major role in the novella at the end, but who we really failed to get any sense of during the bulk of the book.
Because of the bare bones structure to the story, I found myself occasionally going back and rereading passages to make sense of where we were in the book. I felt like there were all these great threads that could have been the basis of a wonderful paranormal mystery, but they were left unexplained, underdeveloped, or incomplete. This book should have been a full-length novel and I’m surprised the author didn’t take the opportunity to expand the story before reissuing. In the end, the plot holes that resulted from a story that was never fully realized made this novella a bit hard to get into. I thought the premise for the novella was a really good one—and the bits that worked were solid and entertaining, but, in the end, there simply wasn’t enough story to make this novella shine.