Interested in Western art? Maybe? When you pick up this
romantic suspense thriller, BLUE SMOKE AND MURDER, you definitely
will be. Jill Breck is a river guide who saves the life of Lane
Faroe. His father, Joe, tucks a card in Jill’s waterproof
ditty bag and tells her to call whenever she has a problem that
worries her. Readers might remember Lane and his parents from
Elizabeth Lowell’s THE WRONG HOSTAGE. Both now work for St.
Kilda Consulting Group.
When a mysterious fire ends the life of her great aunt, Modesty
Breck, Jill inherits the dry dusty ranch and original homestead in
Arizona. She arrives at the ranch to find a note from under a
covered bucket of water near the ancient long-handled pump in the
kitchen. Jill knows that this is from her great aunt, as it says,
“Go to your old hiding place. Life isn’t as safe as it
seems to the young.” Something must be up.
And it is. Jill’s great aunt has left her a number of
unsigned paintings that she remembers seeing as a child. When she
found them, it made her Aunt Modesty furious with her. Now, as a
former art history and fine arts major, she understands that these
Western landscapes capture the sprit of the West, but they may also
have an important value. She discovers a letter from a high-end art
gallery about an unsigned painting addressed to her aunt. They had
misplaced the painting that she sent, alluding that it was not
worth much, and offered a small amount of money to settle. Jill
thinks that the only reason her aunt sent off the painting was that
she needed money.
However, Jill takes it upon herself to photograph three of the
small paintings and send a jpeg off to a few well-known art
galleries. It turns out that this mystery of the missing painting
is not as simple as it seems. Jill tries to meet up with an art
collector, only to find her car ransacked and the painting she
brought cut up. A note is left saying STAY OUT OF IT OR DIE.
Her next decision is to call Joe Faroe, who sends out a St.
Kilda’s consultant, Zach Balfour. Zach is supposed to be on
vacation but is close by and shows up at her door. He also happens
to know a lot about art, western art and the art world. He’s
the perfect man to help protect Jill and her paintings until they
figure out what is going on.
What is it about these paintings that is causing so much furor?
They are unsigned and possibly done by Thomas Dunstan, a legendary
Western painter who had been the lover of Jill’s grandmother.
If they are proven to be Thomas’s paintings, they are worth a
fortune. Could it be that some art collectors have gotten wind of
these unsigned copies and are hoping to buy up cheap or steal them?
But why the death threats?
As Zach and Jill begin to uncover and discover the story behind the
paintings in hopes of authenticating them, the two find themselves
involved in the high stakes business of art collecting and the cold
multi-million dollar galleries in the art circuit. They both come
to realize that “art is like everything else. It’s
worth what someone’s willing to pay for it.” As they
try to outsmart a killer who is ruthless in this game of money,
lies and threats, they hope they end up with their lives.
This story is full of the twists, turns and intrigue that readers
have come to expect from an Elizabeth Lowell novel. Readers are
kept on the edge of their comfortable chairs as they turn the pages
to find out what happens to Zach and Jill. And as for the romance
--- well, the sexual tension between these two keeps you hoping
that this couple may find that happily ever together.
Reviewed by Jennifer McCord on December 22, 2010