Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Bodies of Art #1
Published by Henery Press on February 2nd 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository
Laurel Beacham grew up in wealth and society—until her grandfather died and her father gambled away the family fortune. Now with more pedigree than trust fund, she is the premier art recovery expert for museums that need to stay one step ahead of international thieves. Her latest assignment pits her against a mystery man, Jack Hawkes, who is not only her equal with blue bloods, but also seems to know where all the bodies are buried. Suddenly Laurel is racing against time to find a priceless art object before the enemy does, locate a missing art world compatriot with crucial information, and decide whether or not she wants to disentangle herself from this new male nemesis, Jack, who seems to know too much about her and her business.
Although the story is set in the art world, Counterfeit Conspiracies has the feel of a caper story. While this somewhat madcap adventure is all about recovering a missing artifact and rescuing a missing agent, the adventure is more about, well, Laurel’s adventures than it is about the art she has to recover or the world where art is stolen, traded and sold.
The way that Laurel generally approaches her various jobs makes her feel more like a thief or a secret agent than anything so potentially staid as recovering stolen treasures – especially since she sometimes steals those stolen treasures back from the thieves who stole them in the first (or second) place.
It’s not necessary to know a thing about the art world to enjoy Laurel’s chase-and-be-chased across Europe and back again. She’s always hopping from plane to train to car, and always just one step ahead, or behind, her pursuers.
The other fascinating thing about Laurel’s adventures is one of those very pursuers. At the beginning of the story, we learn that Laurel has crossed paths with a nearly mythical master art thief multiple times, and that he usually gets the best of her. As her latest job goes pear-shaped, she crosses paths with Jack Hawkes, who knows entirely too much about her.
Jack is chasing Laurel, and catches her so frequently that he obviously has ties to too many police and security forces. But as he tails Laurel, catches her, loses her, and catches her again, it’s never clear whether Jack is truly on the side of the angels or is pursuing Laurel for his own ends.
As Laurel frequently opines, Jack regularly asks for her trust and cooperation, but he neither fully trusts nor fully cooperates with her. He has researched everything about her, but always deflects whenever she tries to learn the least little thing about him.
They have oodles of chemistry together, but no basis for anything beyond a partnership of expedience.
But when all the chips fall, Jack is the only one Laurel can turn to to get her out of her latest jam. Especially since it feels like he’s at least partially responsible for landing her in it.
Escape Rating B: Counterfeit Conspiracies is a solidly fun caper story. While Laurel may be operating on the side of the angels, she acts more like a thief than anything else. It’s just that the people she plans to steal from are thieves themselves.
Jack is an enigma from the very beginning, and neither we nor Laurel learn enough about him to trust him. The number of times he asks for trust but doesn’t reciprocate made my teeth clench right along with Laurel’s. It’s obvious that he’s hiding a whole bunch of somethings, but we never do find out what. At least not in this first book in the series.
The strained relationship between Laurel and Jack, as well as their chemistry, reminded me very much of the Vicky Bliss series by Elizabeth Peters. (While the series starts with Borrower of the Night, the mysterious John Smythe doesn’t appear to bedevil art historian Vicki Bliss’ life until the second book in the series, Street of the Five Moons)
So if you like Counterfeit Conspiracies, you’ll love Vicky Bliss. And quite possibly also Carla Neggers’ Sharpe & Donovan series, which starts with Saint’s Gate (reviewed here). In Neggers’ series her art historian is an FBI agent from a family of art recovery experts. Combine Sharpe & Donovan with Vicky Bliss and you get Counterfeit Conspiracies.
But if you’re looking for a quick caper story with a lot of twists and turns, Counterfeit Conspiracies is the fun start to what looks like an interesting series. I’m looking forward to the next book, Marked Masters, to see just what kind of hot water Laurel Beacham will fall into next, and whether Jack Hawkes will push her into it, fish her out of it, or both!
~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~
The tour is giving away a prize pack valued at $150: a signed copy of Counterfeit Conspiracies, a 7″ Kindle Fire HD, a movie DVD, a SAS SpyPen with hidden camera, and an Amazon gift card.