Always Time to Die

Beautiful Dreamer

Die in Plain Sight

Eden Burning

Innocent as Sin
Jade Island

Midnight at Ruby Bayou

Moving Target

Pearl Cove

To the Ends of the Earth

 
Blue Smoke and Murder
by Elizabeth Lowell
(Wm. Morrow, $24.95, PG-13) ISBN# 06-082985-8
*****
Jill Breck has a degree in computer science and training as an artist but works as a river guide running the most challenging rapids of the Colorado River. During just another day at work she saves the life of Lane Faroe, son of Joe and Grace Faroe, both employed by the private security firm St. Kilda. Joe insists that Jill promise to get in touch with him if she ever needs anything.

Shortly after this incident Jill returns to the desert ranch in Northern Arizona where she grew up to settle her Aunt Modesty’s estate. The coroner's verdict on Modesty’s death is an accidental death from a fall while filling the heating stove. Jill finds that one of Modesty’s last contacts with the world outside was when she had sent one of thirteen paintings she owned to a dealer for appraisal.

The dealer's reply indicates that although the painting may have looked like the work of artist Thomas Dunstan, they were unsigned, therefore relatively worthless. The painting had allegedly been lost in the return mail and the gallery was offering a paltry sum in settlement.

Dunstan's paintings were in the plein air western genre that had become much sought out by collectors. Realizing that her aunt had been trying to sell the paintings in order to afford the real estate taxes convinces Jill that she may be unable to hold on to the ranch as welll.

Jill discovers the rest of the paintings hidden on the ranch. When she makes her own inquiry into selling the paintings her car is vandalized and her life threatened. Now knowing she is in trouble and believing her aunt's death was not an accident, she calls Joe Faroe.

Joe dispatches Zach Balfour, contract agent, to protect her. Jill, although self reliant and strong, realizes she is out of her element and works with Zach as they try to solve the mystery that becomes far more complicated than a single issue surrounding the paintings. Lowell with her usual expertise paces the romance between Jill and Zach to the growing tensions in the art world as the date nears for an important art auction headlining a rare Dunstan work.

Fans of Lowell are already acquainted with her multi level character development and realistic dialogue all cast within the framework of a carefully researched and detailed background. Readers of Blue Smoke and Murder will become acquainted with the not so savory reasons for collecting art and the intrigue that often accompanies them.

Although Blue Smoke and Murder may be not Lowell's best novel, when measured against the field, it is far superior to what is generally offered for today’s romantic suspense reading pleasure.

--Thea Davis


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