Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, romantic suspense
Series: Burning Cove #3
Published by Berkley on May 7, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
From the Author's website: An unconventional woman and a man shrouded in mystery walk a tightrope of desire as they race against a killer to find a machine that could change the world.
Former trapeze artist Amalie Vaughn moved to Burning Cove to reinvent herself, but things are not going well. After spending her entire inheritance on a mansion with the intention of turning it into a bed-and-breakfast, she learns too late that the villa is said to be cursed. When the first guest, Dr. Norman Pickwell, is murdered by his robot invention during a sold-out demonstration, rumors circulate that the curse is real.
In the chaotic aftermath of the spectacle, Amalie watches as a stranger from the audience disappears behind the curtain. When Matthias Jones reappears, he is slipping a gun into a concealed holster. It looks like the gossip that is swirling around him is true—Matthias evidently does have connections to the criminal underworld.
Matthias is on the trail of a groundbreaking prototype cipher machine. He suspects that Pickwell stole the device and planned to sell it. But now Pickwell is dead and the machine has vanished. When Matthias’s investigation leads him to Amalie’s front door, the attraction between them is intense, but she knows it is also dangerous. Amalie and Matthias must decide if they can trust each other and the passion that binds them, because time is running out.
And we finally get the link – or at least a tangential link – if not to Scargill Cove (which I still think must be just up the coast) then to the Arcane Society. It’s there if you squint – and I was certainly squinting for it – but if you haven’t read any of the author’s Arcane Society books in any of its eras under any of her names, Tightrope still works well as a standalone, as the latest entry in the Burning Cove series, and as a terrific story of a heroine in jeopardy and the man who comes – not to rescue her – but to stand beside her as she rescues herself.
Just like the other books in this series, The Girl Who Knew Too Much and The Other Lady Vanishes, this story begins with a particularly gruesome murder, and with our heroine on the run. Even if in this particular case our heroine doesn’t actually know it.
Amalie’s running is just a bit less fraught than either Irene’s (Girl) or Adelaide’s (Lady), as Amalie Vaughan may be suspected of having murdered the rigger in her last circus, but she was never officially charged with anything. Nor should she have been.
After all, she didn’t murder him – he tried to murder her.
But when another murder happens almost literally on her doorstep, she can’t help but wonder if bad luck is following her. After all, she bought the Hidden Cove Inn at a bargain basement price after the events of The Other Lady Vanishes, when a noted Hollywood psychic threw herself from the roof.
Now one of her guests has been killed just down the road in the middle of his own show – by his very own robot! Amalie can’t help but wonder if she’s doomed to fail. All the Hollywood reporters who stake out Burning Cove are certain to give her inn endless pages of bad publicity – especially after someone breaks into the place in the middle of the night.
The only question is whether the purpose of the break-in is to search the late robot inventor’s room – or to finish up the job that the rigger intended at that last circus performance.
When rumored mobster (and real life covert agent) Matthias Jones convinces Amalie that he needs to stay at Hidden Cove both to protect her AND to keep an eye on things, it’s just the beginning of the adventure.
Because there’s much more going on in Burning Cove than just a crazy inventor and a runaway machine. And the chemistry between Matthias and Amalie is more incendiary than anything ever cooked up in his great-great-great-grandfather’s alchemical laboratory.
Escape Rating A-: Tightrope was a whole lot of fun, just like the other two books in Burning Cove. And also like all of the author’s books in the Arcane Society/Harmony series. But Burning Cove is only tangentially (very tangentially) related to the Arcane Society, and you certainly don’t have to have read any of that to enjoy this. It also stands alone relative to the other books in the Burning Cove series. But if you have read the whole thing, it is interesting to see the characters from the previous books again.
Burning Cove is a fascinating place. It’s close enough to LA for the Hollywood stars to use it both as a getaway and as a place to see and be seen.
One of the many fascinating side characters in Tightrope is fading actor Vincent Hyde, someone who was best known for his many horror films but who has come to Burning Cove to stay at Amalie’s “psychic murder mansion” in the hopes of generating some much-needed publicity for his failing career.
Vincent Hyde’s name sounds like an homage to the great horror actor Vincent Price, but the progress, or rather the downward trajectory of his career sounds a lot like the career of Bela Lugosi, a career which ended in the deliciously execrable cult classic, Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Hyde’s presence in the story, and in Burning Cove, is just the tip of one of the many layers of the story. Hyde is in town to meet with one of the legendary Hollywood gossip columnists – a woman who can make or break his remaining career. She’s in town to follow up on the inventor’s “death by robot” and so are a surprising number of others.
Because this is Hollywood, or close enough, and no one is exactly who they seem to be. Not Amalie, not Matthias, and certainly not Luther Pell, the man who seems to be running Burning Cove.
The story begins because a crazy circus performer has made a career of staging the last and final performance of too many beautiful trapeze artists – without a net. It ends with spies and secrets.
In the middle there’s a marvelous adventure, a combustible romance, and the exploration of a relationship that dives deeply into the value of trust and the danger of lies. Lies to oneself, lies to loved ones – and lies told at the highest levels of government.
It’s the 1930s, war is coming. Gentlemen may not read each other’s mail, but governments certainly do.
Excerpt from Tightrope
“There is no need to fear robots,” Dr. Pickwell declared. It was clear that the suggestion that robots would displace workers annoyed him. He raised his voice to be heard above the murmurs of the crowd. “I urge you to consider that these machines could take the place of soldiers. Wars of the future will be fought with robots, not human beings. Think of the lives that will be saved.”
“You’re mad,” someone else shouted. “You want to create robots that can kill? What if these machines of yours decide to turn on their creators and try to destroy us?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Pickwell snapped. “Robots are nothing more than mechanical devices. Fundamentally, they are no different than the cars we drive or the radios that we use to get our news.”
“Futuro looks mighty dangerous to me,” the man in the front row called.
“Nonsense,” Pickwell said. “Allow me to demonstrate how useful Futuro can be. Futuro, what is the forecast for tomorrow?”
The robot answered in a scratchy, hollow voice. “There will be fog in the morning but by noon the day will turn warm and sunny. No rain is expected.”
Pickwell faced his audience. “Think about how useful it would be to have Futuro in your home at your beck and call. It won’t be long before there will be robots that can cook and clean and do the laundry.”
But the crowd was no longer paying any attention to Pickwell, because Futuro had once again lurched into motion.
“What’s that thing doing?” Hazel whispered.
“I have no idea,” Amalie said.
They watched along with everyone else as the robot opened the suitcase that it had just placed on the bench. Pickwell finally realized that he had lost the attention of the crowd. He turned away from the podium to see what was going on at the bench.
Futuro reached into the suitcase and took out a gun.
There was a collective gasp from the audience.
“No,” Pickwell shouted. “Futuro, I command you to put down the gun.”
The robot pulled the trigger. Twice. The shots boomed throughout the theater.
Pickwell jerked under the impact of the bullets. He opened his mouth to cry out but he could not speak. He collapsed onto his back.
Futuro calmly clanked offstage, disappearing behind the curtain.
Stunned, Amalie stared at the unmoving figure on the stage. It was a trick, she thought. It had to be some sort of bizarre charade designed to shock the audience.
Most of the crowd evidently believed the same thing. The majority of the people in the seats did not move. They appeared stunned.
But not everyone was frozen in shock. Amalie glimpsed motion out of the corner of her eye. When she turned to look, she saw that Luther Pell and the stranger who had accompanied him to the theater had left their seats and were making their way to the stage steps. They were moving fast, almost as if they had been anticipating trouble.
When they reached the stage they were joined by Oliver Ward, who had managed to move with surprising speed, considering that he had a noticeable limp and was obliged to use a cane. His wife, Irene, was not far behind. She had a notebook in one hand.
Luther Pell and the stranger vanished behind the curtain. Ward crouched beside Pickwell and unfastened the inventor’s tuxedo jacket to expose a blood-soaked white shirt.
The theater manager evidently had been watching the demonstration from the last row. He rushed down the center aisle toward the stage.
“Is there a doctor in the house?” he shouted.
Amalie saw a middle-aged man in the center section make his way quickly down the aisle.
“I’m a doctor,” he said in a loud voice. “Call an ambulance.”
The manager disappeared through a side door, presumably in search of a telephone.
Onstage, Ward was using both hands to try to staunch the bleeding. The doctor arrived and quickly took charge.
Luther Pell reappeared from behind the curtains. He looked at Oliver Ward and shook his head. Ward looked grim.
The stranger finally emerged from behind the curtain. He was in the act of reaching inside his white evening jacket. Amalie caught a glimpse of something metallic just before the elegantly tailored coat fell neatly back into place.
It took her a couple of seconds to comprehend what she had just seen. Then understanding struck. Like any self-respecting mobster, Luther Pell’s friend from out of town had come to the theater armed with a gun.