Always Time to Die

Beautiful Dreamer

Die in Plain Sight

Eden Burning

Jade Island

Midnight at Ruby Bayou

Moving Target

Pearl Cove

To the Ends of the Earth

Innocent as Sin
by Elizabeth Lowell
(Wm. Morrow, $24.95, PG) ISBN 978-0060829827
The small African country of Camgeria is divided by the ongoing war between the establishment and the rebel guerillas. The war escalates by the easy access of weapons to both sides. One man, known as “The Siberian” is selling to both sides, thereby draining the economy of its money and natural resources. Reed and Rand McCree, who are in country and loosely connected to St. Kilda, take a side trip to obtain photographs of the never photographed Siberian in the act of exchanging guns for money and coltan (a valuable mineral used in cell phones and computer chips). They are discovered and The Siberian kills Reed while they are escaping.

Five years later, Rand is living as an artist while still grieving for his identical twin, and the Siberian has become Bertone, world oil broker and a very wealthy man, who still brokers terrorism in its many forms. Such wealth garners him the services of a private banker. Employed by a southwest Arizona Bank, Kayla Shaw is the bank officer assigned to be at his beck and call.

St. Kilda, constructed by Lowell in a prior novel is an organization peopled by bright operatives, struggling to stay within a legal defensible position while combating the malevolence governments are constrained to fight.

St. Kilda has been on The Siberian's trail these last years, and has interested a “tell all” news show in doing a special on the wealthy Bertone, knowing that Rand McCree still has the negatives of the Siberian's picture. To bring it together, they need Rand to verify Bertone as the Siberian.

Handily, Mrs. Bertone is buying her way to social respectability by the funding of the arts and is participating in a festival by sponsoring a contest in which an artist has two hours to paint a scene on their ranch with generous prize money attached. St. Kilda persuades Rand to enter in order to catch a glimpse of Bertone.

Meanwhile Kayla has begun to see the very ugly side of Bertone, when required to deposit a twenty million dollar check from an unverified source into his account. Enter the complexities of banking laws as they evolved post 9/11.Her boss orders her to make the deposit telling her that he will take care of it. Bertone requires that Kayla be present at the contest as the banker with the money, and it is here that Kayla and Rand meet.

Hours later as Kayla reluctantly heads to a back area where Bertone commanded her to meet him, someone tries to kidnap her. The attempt fails due to her quick actions and Rand's rescue. They flee together and Rand takes them to the safe harbor of St. Kilda. Here Kayla meets John Neto, the leader from Camgeria who has employed St. Kilda to try and recover some of his country's money from Bertone. When Kayla finds the amount she deposited has now doubled she knows she is being set up to take the fall.

Willingly Kayla joins forces with St. Kilda and a race is on to stop the transaction that this money will no doubt fund. Rand is drawn back from the world of the nonliving but existing and Kayla finally finds in Rand what she did not know existed.

Interspersed with understandable, but complex banking regulations, and peopled with the usual cast of ugly violent thugs, Lowell weaves an all too credible plot escalating in tension with time that is running out.

In a world where most people can be bought, Lowell takes her usual potshots at the FBI, fettered by rigidity, and who have to also answer to politicians, corrupt or not. Her antidote for this is her intrepid St. Kilda agency.

Using characters from other novels adds the dimension of familiarity to fans, while her character development occurs during the slow periods of her rhythmic pacing. Dialog vacillates from the witty to the irreverent providing the backbone for yet another Elizabeth Lowell keeper novel.

--Thea Davis

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