Suspense

“The Art Forger” by B.A. Shapiro

 

Book Cover - The Art Forger

Talented artist Claire Roth, makes her living painting copies of old Masters and Impressionists for Reproductions.com. This is a completely legitimate occupation, requiring only that the buyer be made aware that the painting is a reproduction. Starving artists need to pay the rent, so if people want the copies hanging in their homes, Roth is happy to oblige and talented enough to recreate the best.

 

While in grad school, Roth worked with a well-known Boston area artist who took credit for a large piece she painted under his direction. When the canvas was chosen to hang in MoMA, Roth was horrified at his duplicity, publically claimed the work as her own, but was disgraced when she could not prove it. For the next three years, she was a pariah in the art world, barely keeping her head above water, needing the Repro jobs to survive.

 

A Boston gallery owner, Aiden Markel, knows of Roth’s talent despite the scandal, is curious about her status, and sees a Degas copy she is working on. He asks Roth to copy one of the paintings from the Gardner Museum theft. Illegality is discussed, but “there is illegal and there is illegal,” and Markel promises that the Gardner painting will finally be returned to the Museum. It’s all for the greater good.

 

Markel bribes Roth, not with money (although there will be $50K when she completes the painting) but with the chance to work with a genuine Degas, and most importantly, with fame via her own one-woman show that would legitimize her work to the world.

 

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Markel and Roth discuss the feasibility of getting caught with the Degas in their possession, but the very phrase “What’s a promise among thieves?” hints at the heist/con feeling of the book, the danger inherent in every choice that is made to keep the original painting secret.

 

Roth’s talent and training are both her gift and her undoing in this suspenseful mystery. The authentication process of the pieces in “The Art Forger,” both condemns and exonerates her as the story unfolds. We are privy to a fascinating look at how the rarefied art world works and when we read, “People see what they expect to see. Including the experts,” we believe it.

 

Shapiro has the inspired sense to ground the lofty merits of the scheme with the most human of thoughts in Roth’s internal struggle – this down-on-her-luck artist needs a new cellphone and a real bed and wants the red couch that is 70% off down the street. It’s the dream of a lifetime, but after all, Roth eats mac and cheese to subsist, despite the promise of more.

 

Art and museum lovers will revel in the marvelous descriptions of the methods used to create an oil painting, whether Modern or Impressionist or forgery. The techniques, the brush strokes, the materiel, the entire process – all accurately depicted as a result of Shapiro’s extensive research. We feel Roth’s excitement, her aching back, her sweat, while she paints and is swept into the passion of her creations.

 

The real-life theft of the paintings at the Isabelle Gardner museum in Boston (still unresolved over twenty years after the fact) is the underpinning for “The Art Forger” plot. Shapiro has embellished the actual robbery with extra players and weaves a terrific story that kept me spellbound throughout. The FBI, paintings that are not as authentic as they appear, the courts, jail-time, back-stabbing colleagues, a love interest, the remaining descendant of Isabella Stewart Gardner, the Museum itself – are masterfully intertwined in this superb New York Times best-seller.

 

One theory posited in the book for the reason that the paintings are still missing is that some were used like ‘blood paintings’ (a la ‘blood diamonds’) as barter for guns or drugs or a hedge against some other deal. In real life, it is thought that some of the paintings may be lost or damaged, gone forever. In any case, despite the statue of limitations having run out, and a $5 million reward, nothing has been found.

 

Click on the link to read about the actual heist:

 

http://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/2013/march/reward-offered-for-return-of-stolen-gardner-museum-artwork

 

 

Please visit www.bashapirobooks.com for more information about Barbara Shapiro and her work.

 

 

 

 

 

“The Memory Collector” by Meg Gardiner

 

memorycollectorbook

 

 

Jo Beckett is a forensic psychiatrist who works as a consultant with the San Francisco Police Department to determine the ‘why’ of a crime. In “The Memory Collector,” Beckett is called in to do a psych evaluation when a plane from London lands and one of the passengers will not get off. The crew thinks that Ian Kanan is full-on crazy because one minute he calmly wonders where he is and the next, is completely belligerent.

 

Beckett realizes that Kanan has anterograde amnesia (an actual condition), which keeps him from making new memories. He recalls everything that happened before he got on the plane, knows his trip started in Africa, and believes he might have been poisoned. But, every five minutes his brain resets, he loses his present, and has to be reminded of recent events.

 

Beckett needs to figure it all out before something disastrous happens. Tests reveal that Kanan has something wrong with his brain, but did a virus cause it? Other people who came in contact with him on the plane are behaving erratically as well, but Kanan has an agenda of his own and no interest in helping the police.

 

Corporate greed, a missing family, bio-warfare, and people who are not what they seem, complicate a pulse-pounding race against time. The bad guys become all the more sinister as they coldly discard inconvenient people along the way. There is a lot at stake for all parties concerned, and good or bad, everyone is working hard to reach their goals.

 

Fans of bestselling Meg Gardiner’s strong female leads will enjoy the fully realized Jo Beckett: smart, recently widowed, immersed in her work and good at what she does, a dedicated rock climber, in the beginning stages of moving on as she connects more deeply with Gabe (a search and rescue friend who had informed her of her husband’s death in an earlier book).

 

The supporting cast in “The Memory Collector” – a sister, a hunky almost boyfriend, a truly wacky neighbor, and a testy police investigator – is a group of complex characters that play nicely against Beckett. All can be counted on when she needs their help.

 

I discovered Meg Gardiner during a crime writers’ webinar, where she introduced herself by saying, “I lie for a living.” She is thoroughly charming, funny, and a former California lawyer, now living in London and Texas. The first Gardiner book I picked up was “China Lake,” a chilling tale with Evan Delaney as another convincing  protagonist with her own series, but with a military background. “China Lake” was an Edgar Award winner.

 

Ms. Gardiner can lie to me anytime she likes.

 

Read my review of Ms. Gardiner's "Ransom River" here.

Visit www.meggardiner.com for information about Ms. Gardiner, her various series and stand-alone novels.

 

 

“Up Country” by Nelson DeMille

 

Book Cover - Up Country

In these days between the U.S. celebrations of Memorial Day and July 4th, it seemed appropriate to review “Up Country,” a detective/thriller that places war firmly at its center. DeMille considers the U.S. involvement in Viet Nam and the sacrifices made by all concerned. War never seems quite real unless someone close to us is affected, but lest we forget, the body bags are always bringing home someone’s brother or father or sister or mother.

 

Paul Brenner is close to retiring from military service, but must return to Viet Nam one last time to solve a crime committed during the war almost thirty years before. Was an American soldier killed in Viet Nam back then, actually murdered?

 

In Brenner’s search for the answers to what seems to be a colossal cover up in “Up Country,” we travel through Viet Nam, feel the anguish of a country still reeling from the destruction of the war, meet descendants of the original soldiers who had nothing to do with the regimes of the time, but are still suffering. And, the very men who lost the war now rule it.

 

Brennan interacts with ex-pat Susan Weber to supposedly smooth his in-country travel arrangements, and at times (even during their on-the-road affair) we wonder whether she is a friend to Brennan or an agent of the enemy. Corruption and betrayal at every turn, a harrowing unauthorized trip into North Viet Nam, many tense dealings with a suspicious North Vietnamese Colonel, political as well as military agendas, seeing Viet Nam as a country, not as a war – all blends together in a sobering clash of values and hindsight.

 

DeMille’s ‘Alpha Male’ lead characters are always fully developed, with strong language and active inner dialogue. In “Up Country,” we experience Brennan’s thought process as he assesses his limited options for solving the crime. We are persuaded that he should continue his dangerous mission even as he observes the behavior of the former/present enemy that still lives in the past and can’t let go of the hatred of the U.S.

 

“Up Country,” published in 2002, was based on DeMille’s own experiences upon his return to Viet Nam in 1997, almost three decades after his own military service. DeMille is a master storyteller, as his legions of fans will agree, but in this book, he brings a great deal of himself to the page and in doing that, creates a completely absorbing, gritty tale. One wonders how much is in reality, fiction. DeMille’s other books are great reads, but “Up Country” just may be his best.

 

Visit www.nelsondemille.com for more information about the popular John Corey series and the many other bestselling DeMille thrillers.

 

 

 

 

“The Alibi Man” by Tami Hoag

Book Cover - The Alibi Man

 

Bestselling suspense author, Tami Hoag, began her professional writing career in the romance genre, but stretched that framework to include everything from comedy to suspense. Her strong female characters were savvy, contemporary types and readers connected.

 

As Hoag’s work shifted into the thriller/suspense realm, it reflected the rising audience interest in forensics and began to include more of the graphic details of the crime scenes and the violence visited upon the victims. Today, her bad guys are darker, more depraved, and her heroines more likely to engage in the kind of retribution that would raise the eyebrows of the faint-hearted. 

 

“The Alibi Man” returns former undercover cop, Elena Estes, to the hard, fast world of Palm Beach society and the nasty secrets lying beneath the surface. When a fellow horse groom and marginal friend is found murdered, Elena is drawn back into the life she’d like to forget and must deal with buried emotions she thought she had hidden from the world. Elena is grippingly portrayed as a deeply tortured soul, and we feel her pain as her personal life is laid before us chapter, by aching chapter.

 

The action in “The Alibi Man” is fast-paced, filling the pages with cold-blooded crime figures snipping off body parts, drug/sex parties, handsome polo stars, and a cop boyfriend.

 

The plot weaving the colorful characters together is less successful, only because I don’t quite buy that the rich and powerful would be dumb enough to get themselves into such stupid personal messes. One at a time, yes, but collectively? However, the name of the book may tell it all. Supreme arrogance probably dictates the need for an Alibi Man. Great read for Hoag fans, with graphic language and adult situations.

 

Written in 2007, “The Alibi Man” was followed by “Deeper than the Dead,” “Secrets of the Grave,” and “Down the Darkest Road.” “The 9th Girl” will be published in June, 2013. Hoag has written over thirty books, with fifteen consecutive titles hitting the NYT bestseller lists. “Night Sins” was made into a memorably chilling TV movie in the late 90s and is still shown in re-runs.

 

For more information about Tami Hoag and her books, visit www.tamihoag.com

 

 

“Proof” by Jordyn Redwood

Book Cover - Proof Lilly Reeves is an ER doctor who chooses to live alone. She stays in shape, attends martial arts classes, owns a gun, and has three locks on her front door. She is a caring doctor, good at her job, and well liked by her colleagues. She has a close friend and a nice guy who wants to date her. None of that prevents her from being attacked and raped in her own home. And she may be the fifth victim of a serial rapist.  

She accidently discovers the identity of her attacker at work, but when she makes her accusations, DNA testing proves her wrong and she in turn, is accused of being unstable. Even her friends begin to doubt her sanity. At first, Reeves thinks she has it all together, that she will be fine as soon as the rapist is behind bars. But, that is far from reality.  

There are multiple twists and turns as the rapist proves to be more cold-blooded than anybody could have imagined. Reeves speeds ever downward, trapped in her despair and acts of self-destruction. Her friends, along with the policeman assigned to the case, do their best to help, but Reeves doesn’t want to be helped, especially when the worst news possible is revealed. This is a faith-based book, with a Christian perspective as how best to handle the many issues that arise, but to Redwood’s credit, the true-to-life discussions have non-believer Dr. Reeves standing firm, several times.  

“Proof” is a debut novel, but compares favorably with more established medical thrillers. ER procedures as well as difficult deliveries are meticulously written, yet easy to read. The medical oddity that identifies the killer is well-researched and thoroughly fascinating. The lead characters are fully developed and realistically supportive. “Proof” does not shy away from the subject, but it does not actually contain a violent re-enactment of the rape. Rather, it is an absorbing study in how a woman and the people who surround her, deal with the challenging aftermath of that rape. This is an honest, Christian look at a serious problem.  

The Twitterverse is a terrific place to discover new authors. I ‘met’ Jordyn Redwood because of her blog, “Redwood’s Medical Edge.” Jordyn is an ER nurse who created the blog in order to help authors write correctly about medical details in their work. On Fridays, many writers/reviewers on Twitter share a heads-up about good research sources; Redwood’s column is an excellent place to find great information about life in an ER. In addition to doing her own columns, she has guest bloggers who address certain areas of interest related to the medical field, as varied as Civil War medicine and neonatal emergencies. Great blog.  

“Proof” is the first in the ‘Bloodline Trilogy,’ and was nominated for the Carol Award. The second book in the series, “Poison,” was released on February 1, 2013.  

For more information, please visit www.jordynredwood.com    

 

 

“Stone Cold” by Robert B. Parker

Book Cover - Stone Cold

 

Robert B. Parker was the author of more than fifty books and regrettably, I did not pick up a single one until Jesse Stone (the police chief in Parker’s nine book Stone series) appeared in the form of Tom Selleck in a movie of the week titled, "Stone Cold." My bad.

 

In both book and movie, Stone, formerly an L.A. cop, is now the police chief of Paradise, a seaside Massachusetts town. He has baggage that many readers have sympathized with over the years: failed marriage, complicated relationship with the ex-wife, issues with drinking, and an inability to escape from himself in a town where everybody knows your name.

 

And, in this town, some nasty crimes are taking place…not only a spree of seemingly random murders, but also a teenage rape. Stone’s handling of both cases is intensely personal; he wants to understand the suspects, but also needs to help and avenge the victims. He sometimes steps outside the law to do that when the law doesn’t quite deliver the justice deserved.

 

Luckily for Parker fans, the TV movie script does not stray far from the crisp dialogue that characterizes the book. Stone is a man of few words until it’s necessary to expand his generally monosyllabic responses. His thoughts, however, are deeper and richer, and the feeling that Selleck expresses by a glance or a frown on the small screen, Parker describes in full measure on the printed page.

 

There is a hint at discord with the town council, but in “Stone Cold,” it’s not overplayed.  The council members want information about ongoing cases, but Stone doesn’t feel it necessary to share and the scene is set for more problems in future books. Crime waves make people fearful about living normal lives and random killings are even more frightening, so it would be normal for a mayor and council to be actively concerned and want to reassure the townsfolk that it’s safe to go out at night. It’s just that Stone knows better than to let the council control the department decisions.

 

An easy connection exists between Stone, Molly, and Suit, the local law enforcement team. They protect each other and play the role of a family that Stone doesn’t have. To get through some of the deeper issues, he sees a shrink by the name of Dix, who at times is also a sounding board when Stone wants a psychological profile done of a suspect. The interplay of the principal characters is so realistically portrayed that while “Stone Cold” is a stand-alone book, it would be interesting to go back to the beginning of the series to see how these relationships began and subsequently developed.

 

Sadly, Robert B. Parker passed away in 2010 at the age of 77, discovered by his wife at his desk, having been in the midst of writing a novel. In addition to the seven TV movies inspired by the Stone series, there was a weekly TV show, “Spenser for Hire,” based on the character of the same name in other Parker books. The Parker estate has decided to continue the hugely successful work of the ‘dean of American crime fiction’ with new Stone and Spenser books written by people who worked closely with him in TV and film.

 

Visit www.robertbparker.net to learn more about the man, his books, and his legacy.

 

 

 

“Scarpetta” by Patricia Cornwell

Book Cover - Scarpetta

Kay Scarpetta is a celebrated forensic pathologist who has taken an assignment in NYC. Her resume includes solving unusually difficult cases by painstaking attention to detail and determined exploration of every possibility. This time her patient, Oscar Bane, isn’t dead. And, he has demanded her world-renowned expertise and integrity be used to exonerate him. The case gets more bizarre with each fingernail clipped, each bruise examined. Oscar Bane has been injured during the course of the murder of his girlfriend, which he swears he did not commit.

 

Patricia Cornwell reinvented the forensic thriller genre over twenty years ago and during the intervening time has earned the Edgar, Creasey, Gold Dagger, Anthony, McCavity, Sherlock and Galaxy British Crime Thriller of the Year Awards. In each book, the reader is privy to the grisly reality of autopsies, the intimate invasion of the body in order to uncover how the victim died, as well as clues to the identity of the killer. Those twenty years have generated many technological advances in forensic science and as each is unveiled in real-life, Cornwell incorporates them into Scarpetta’s well-equipped labs.

 

The anchoring story in “Scarpetta” addresses the invasive power of the internet. Lucy, a computer phenom who is fiercely protective of her aunt, zeroes in on people who have been slandering Scarpetta online with sleazy photos and ridiculous articles. Cornwell’s message is that we are all vulnerable to the baseless smear campaigns that exist on some sites only to snag more readers and keep them hooked.

 

“Scarpetta” (#16 in the strand) is sometimes darkly disturbing, because the dialogue is so matter of fact, so real. It often seemed as if I was eavesdropping, listening in on private, painful conversations between Scarpetta, her niece, Lucy, her forensic psychologist husband, Benton Wesley, and the investigator and former friend, Pete Marino. No matter the existing murderous storyline, their complex interactions have evolved in true-life fashion during the twenty books in the Scarpetta series.

 

There are well-developed, sometimes creepy, supporting characters, mature subjects, surprising plot twists and turns, and plenty to satisfy Cornwell fans.

 

For more information about Patricia Cornwell, her books and other series, visit www.patriciacornwell.com  The site is interactive, with something to find on every page.

 

 

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