Josie Prescott is happy that her antiques business is doing so well. In SILENT AUCTION, she is asked to appraise the very valuable maritime collection of a millionaire couple and can’t wait to get started. She agrees to meet caretaker Frankie at the couple’s lighthouse, but instead finds Frankie dead on the floor, his head bashed in with a rolling pin. As she stares in horror at the blood on the floor, she realizes that someone is trying to get into the house. After running into the woods behind the house, she is able to call police on her cell phone.
Frankie was the nephew of her neighbor and best friend, Zoë. He had a troubled past with drugs and arrests, but seemed to have been turning his life around. Neither Josie nor Zoë can believe he was back in with his bad old associates.
When she is able to return to the lighthouse and the couple’s records, Josie learns about a scrimmed tooth that was supposed to be in the collection. She did not help the couple buy it, and there is no history or provenance proving it was from a famous artist. It turns out to have been sold through a gallery in town whose owner has always given Josie the creeps with his phoniness. Information from local mysterious pickers and eccentric scrimshaw artists indicate that there are many layers of lies and crimes in this situation.
As these issues come to light, Josie is called upon by the new Chief of Police to help provide background on the antiques business. She is also asked to look at a possible Homer print never before seen. Is it possible that so many extremely valuable antiques from masters are appearing in her town at this time? Josie very much doubts it. She relies on local reporter Wes to keep her in the loop, and sends him information she also gleans. This clever device helps move the plot and investigation forward in an unobtrusive manner.
Jane K. Cleland maintains a very intelligent series with fascinating background on the antiques business and strong characters. Josie and her employees are three-dimensional, even when they only have limited scenes. For example, Eric, who runs the tag-sale room, went out socially with Frankie, and readers learn about their church and dating experiences in a few sentences. While detailed description and history is unavoidable in a series about antiques, the background on maritime artists and, in particular, scrimshaw is at times hard to read through and slows down the plot. Still, collectors of those particular areas may find this element to add to the value of the reading experience.
The killer may be apparent to savvy readers who know that Cleland supplies all clues, however subtle. There is no springing new information in a later interview in these traditional tales. But that does not take away from this excellent series.
Reviewed by Amy Alessio on January 23, 2011