Friday, September 15, 2017

Thief's Mark by Carla Neggers, 2017

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As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.

Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma's grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York's country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished.

As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver's account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver's small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the US, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.
(336 pages)

I know I've said this before, but I'm a huge murder mystery fan. Agatha Christie is my gold standard, but I'm always open to trying out new murder writers. That's why I jumped at the offer to participate in a TLC tour for Carla Neggers's Thief's Mark.

The one downside to starting my exploration of Neggers's books with Thief's Mark, however, is that it's actually the seventh book in the "Sharpe and Donovan" series. For you the review reader, this means that I need to warn you now: there are definitely going to be some spoilers for the earlier books in the series. For me as the reviewer, it means that my experience of the book was a little more . . . well, muddled than it was probably intended to be.

Because there are a huge amount of characters in Thief's Mark, not all of whom seem strictly necessary. I can tell that a lot of groundwork was laid in this story universe in the previous books, and that the author and readers have become indoctrinated and invested into all these different people/agencies, but as an outsider to the series I mainly just found them confusing. There were several times when I had to pause and do some calculations to figure out who a minor character was. Also, it's a very international book–set primarily in England and Ireland with characters from both of those countries as well as from America–but I didn't feel like Neggers did a good job separating out the different dialects. I kept forgetting which characters were supposed to have which accents, because they all just sounded American in my head. The author's American-ness probably didn't help with this.

As for the actual mystery, it's a very intriguing one (though I still don't quite understand the motive as it was explained in the end). And I did like the main characters who were investigating it. Two of them are on their honeymoon, which could have resulted in some icky scenes but was handled very tastefully. The third main investigator/suspect, Henrietta, actually provides the most sensual material in the book: she has one or two fairly-explicit daydreams about being in bed with one of the male main characters. I personally did not feel the need to read that.

As murder mysteries go, Thief's Mark is a very good one. It's definitely much more plot- and mystery-focused than most of the Christian murder mysteries I usually find myself reading (which often devolve into long character studies), so I may well pick up more of Neggers's books in the future. But I have to say that Agatha Christie is still, forever and always, my favorite crime writer.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in order to participate in a TLC tour.

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