Sleight of Hand

Sleight of Hand, the first book in the Stolen Hearts series by Kate Kelly, brought a smile of recognition to my face from the very first page. Not just because Chance Spencer reminds me, just a little, of John Smythe, who drives Vicky Bliss to distraction in Elizabeth Peters’ series. But mostly because I’ve been to the Gardiner Musem. The real one. It’s the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, the theft occurred in 1990, and the crime is still unsolved. The spaces where those 13 paintings used to hang are still empty. The image sticks with you, so updating that crime and using it as the basis for Simple Simon was simply brilliant.

In this story, Chance Spencer’s father was the curator of the Gardiner Museum when a similar crime took place. Chance’s response to his father’s subsequent suicide was to go on a one-man reverse crime spree, stealing the paintings back from the black market collectors who purchased the hot properties. As the infamous art thief “Simple Simon,” Chance robbed the robbers, then dropped the paintings off in FBI offices all over the US. He was notorious, but he never profited from his “talent”. The FBI was certain Chance was the guilty party, but they had no hard evidence. Chance was very careful–until he met Sarah O’Sullivan.

Patrick O’Sullivan was Chance’s business partner. Now Patrick is missing, along with several original pieces of art. Chance is certain that Patrick will contact his daughter, and Chance needs to find Patrick–before the FBI figures out a way to blame him for the crime. Chance knows the FBI would just love to get him for art theft, and as far as the Feds are concerned one art theft is just as good as another if Chance is close enough to it.

So Chance lures Sarah to Ashley Cove, Nova Scotia with the bait that her father has been near that small town. Chance starts out wanting to find his partner to get the FBI off his back before they find out all his secrets. Sarah wants to find her father to warn him that the FBI is after him. Neither of them count on Ashley Cove Art Museum hosting an Ansel Adams traveling art exhibition, or that it houses the collection of some local grand masters.  Add in a visit from Chance’s “favorite” FBI agent, Sarah’s stalker from New York, and even more art thieves, and you have a recipe for more trouble than Ashley Cove has ever seen.

As Chance and Sarah discover that they have only each other to count on, is it any wonder that they are unable to resist their attraction for one another? Even though Chance believes that he can’t possibly be worthy of a woman like Sarah, and in spite of Sarah being sure that Chance is just another rambling man like her father.

Escape Rating B: There were a lot of things about this story that I liked. Chance was looking for redemption, and was afraid to let anyone close until he found it. Sarah was looking for a family, because no one ever stayed with her. The one element I didn’t get was why her dad didn’t make a home with her, even if it meant traveling a lot, since at the end you find out it wasn’t money. There’s a piece of that story missing.

Adapting the story from the real Gardner Museum was cool. It added some deep background. I know that story has been used before, and will be again, but that’s okay. Sometimes the truth really is stranger than fiction.