Art evokes emotion within the beholder and that emotion isn’t always pretty. A work of art can soothe us, make us laugh, cry, or long for something lost—and art can send us spiraling out of control to possess it. Art is also big business, both legitimate and nefarious. It isn’t surprising so many stories emanate from the art world. Art can mask a multitude of secrets and make a person rich and dangerously powerful, something Danielle O’Rourke, chief fundraiser for San Francisco’s Devor Museum of Art and Antiquities, is reminded of the hard way in Mixed Up with Murder.
On the recommendation of Geoff Johnson, the Devor’s board chairman and board member of Lynthorpe College in Bridgetown, Massachusetts, Dani O’Rourke is hired to facilitate the acceptance of a valuable art collection and the twenty million dollar endowment to support it from wealthy class of 1970 alumnus, Vincent Margoletti. It’s an important gift that will enhance the college’s reputation and everyone wants a speedy and legal settlement of terms. That’s the problem—Margoletti made his billions brokering Silicon Valley tech deals and is known to play an angle if it will get him ahead. Dani is there to watch the school’s back.
Dani begins information gathering with Gabby, a researcher in the Development office who provides her with files and a tour of the art gallery, but appointments are postponed and Dani is stood up by her key contact, Larry Saylor. Saylor turns up drowned in a pond on the golf course. Dani is pressured to sign off on the gift, as the college atmosphere turns dark. To confuse matters, Dani’s wealthy ex-husband is in the area for a class reunion and hounds her to attend functions, she and her boyfriend aren’t connecting, her Devor work is piling up and she’s losing her intern to a permanent job offer.
Dani and Gabby uncover irregularities with the deal, and when a terrible event strikes too close for comfort, Dani makes finding answers personal. She is followed, threatened, accused and held against her will as the plot twists to its surprising climax.
Mixed Up with Murder is an engaging, smart read in part because author Susan C. Shea gives readers an insider’s look at the business of fine art. It’s a money-driven world where the wealthy and the highbrow play for high stakes. The other part of the equation is Dani O’Rourke, a polished, witty, and sharply intelligent professional who knows her job and how to read people—skills needed to part donors from their money to support the San Francisco museum. She really has only one foible: Dani attracts trouble. She’s written with depth and humor, making her a thoroughly delightful protagonist. I’m dying to know what will happen with her love interest in the next book.
As well crafted as the protagonist, the plot moves in surprising ways. It never lags and I couldn’t predict the turns. Shea’s writing style is smooth, clear, informative and never redundant. It’s obvious that Shea respects her readers and trusts us to understand the text without dumbing-down the language or overwriting to impress us. The story flows through concepts, images and dialog in a natural and logical progression.
Mixed Up with Murder is the third in the Danielle O’Rourke series. I don’t know how I missed the first two books, but I’ll be going back to catch up with this strong, smart character and her compelling world of art, money and murder.
I want to than Susan C. Shea for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy and congratulate her on today’s (2/2/16) launch of Mixed Up with Murder. Reading this book has been a pleasurable experience on every level. Did I mention I couldn’t put it down? I’m ranking Dani O’Rourke right up there with my favorite sleuths: Phryne Fisher, Laurel McKay, China Bayles, and Aimée Leduc. They’re all different, but they’ll all smart women, driven to use their wit and wits in heroic ways.