Larceny at the Library

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Colleen J. Shogan and her cozy mystery novel, Larceny at the Library.

Author’s description

Congressional chief of staff Kit Marshall is finally figuring out what it takes to work for a newly minted committee chair in the House of Representatives. After a swanky evening soiree at the Library of Congress, Kit’s husband Doug discovers the body of a high-ranking librarian inside a ceremonial office. In addition to a murder, there’s also a major theft to complicate the situation. The contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets the night he was assassinated have gone missing. Kit’s political boss and the Librarian of Congress ask Kit to investigate, and she’s released into a world of intrigue populated by a frisky donor, an ambitious congressional relations specialist, a cagey rare books curator, an overly curious congressman, and a baseball-loving lawyer. Kit must solve the crime before Doug’s career is tanked by suspicion.

The case takes her to the inner bowels of the Library of Congress, Ford’s Theatre, the National Portrait Gallery, and the D.C. Public Library. In the end, Kit must put her own life on the line to retrieve her most valuable possession, which goes unexpectedly missing as she hunts down the killer and thief.

My Review

In Larceny at the Library Colleen J. Shogan has written an enjoyable cozy mystery enhanced with an insider’s knowledge of DC politics and a wealth of fun information about the Library of Congress and the world of historical artifacts.

Her amateur sleuth, Congressional chief of staff Kit Marshall, is diligent and methodical, and she delivers an admirable solution to the crime, just in time. I liked Shogan’s supporting characters and felt she introduced enough about each to make them three dimensional without getting bogged down in extraneous plots. On the whole, the story works well on an intellectual level.

I wish I’d read the previous novels, as I’m guessing author Shogan covered basics I missed. I needed to know more about Kit Marshall in order to really like her. I kept wondering what she was doing solving murders. Worse yet, when characters from previous stories showed up, I found their cameo appearances frustrating. I have a feeling this particular book works better on an emotional level if the reader is already invested in the main character and is happy to see people from her past.

Every book stumbles a bit somewhere: for this novel I’d say it could use a little more zing. I don’t want car chases and ticking bombs in my cozy mysteries, but less mundane food descriptions, fewer extraneous references to pop culture, and a lot less dialog that boils down to people introducing themselves to each other would have allowed this basically good story to pack more punch.

As it is, it’s a fun read and I’d like to read more by this author. I do recommend this book to all cozy mystery fans, and particularly to those who are also history buffs or are fascinated by watching the DC scene.

About the Author

Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at several universities and previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is currently the Senior Vice President of the White House Historical Association.

Colleen is a member of Sisters in Crime. “Stabbing in the Senate” was awarded the Next Generation Indie prize for Best Mystery in 2016. “Homicide in the House” was a 2017 finalist for the RONE Award for Best Mystery. “Calamity at the Continental Club” was a 2018 finalist in the “best cozy mystery” at Killer Nashville. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan.

Find the Author at

https://www.facebook.com/washingtonwhodunit/
https://twitter.com/cshogan276
www.colleenshogan.com
www.goodreads.com/cshogan276

Buy the Book at

Amazon  or BN.

Yes, there is a giveaway

The Author will be awarding a $75 Amazon/BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

GF

My Favorite Excerpt

Dunlap motioned for me to follow inside her private office. With a spectacular view of the historic Jefferson Building and the United States Capitol accompanied by floor to ceiling windows, the Librarian’s corner suite constituted prime real estate on Capitol Hill.  Her desk was littered with papers and books. I appreciated a disheveled work space and instantly felt at ease with the homey appearance of her personal space.

“Please sit down, Ms. Marshall,” she said, pointing to a leather armchair. She took a seat directly opposite me, straining to offer a smile.

“I’ll touch base with Sergeant O’Halloran later this afternoon,” I said. “I’ve already done a preliminary survey of the immediate suspects so we can talk freely about where the investigation stands.”

“Impressive,” said the Librarian, her hands folded neatly on her lap. “How did you come up with such a list?”

I explained that a limited number of people knew that only her fingerprints and Gustav Gaffney’s could open the safe. Given Doug’s observations, if we assumed that Gaffney was killed last night instead of this morning, then only those already inside the building would have had access to the Librarian’s ceremonial office. That narrowed the list of possible suspects considerably.

“Then who are we talking about specifically, Ms. Marshall? asked Dunlap. “After all, I’m in charge of the Library of Congress, and I need to know who might be responsible for these heinous crimes.”

“Of course, ma’am.” I ticked off the known suspects with my fingers. “There’s Gordon Endicott, Joe Malden, Lea Rutherford, Janice Jackson, and Congressman Henry Chang.”  After taking a breath, I continued. “The police likely consider my husband Doug Hollingsworth a suspect, too. But I don’t.” I chuckled. “For obvious reasons.”

“Thank you for those names, Ms. Marshall,” said the Librarian, now with a pinched expression on her face. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to go back to the drawing board.”

My head flinched backwards. “Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Many of those individuals are my employees here at the Library of Congress,” she said. “None of them could have killed Gustav Gaffney or committed theft.”

“It’s hard to imagine a colleague you know and trusted could have done this. But I’ve seen this unfortunate scenario time and time again. You’d be surprised what motivates people to do horrible things.”

All the World’s Colors: The Queen of the Blue

Review: All the World’s Colors: The Queen of the Blue

James W. George has created a fascinating and complex world sure to delight those who love his style of fantasy. I appreciated his deftness with words and his ability to evoke an emotional response with his characters. Descriptions are succinct yet effective, and the plot scampers along at a good pace.

I enjoy novels with multiple points of view and commend this author for effectively interweaving at least five distinct stories while introducing two would-be heroes to the reader. There is no question James W. George is good at his craft.

Alas, he doesn’t happen to write the sort of fantasy I prefer. For all that I love reading about make-believe worlds and alternate histories, I tire of violence and I lose interest when too many characters treat too many people too horribly too often.

Most of this first book alternates between the toxic masculinity of a perpetually warring race (think Klingons with sex slaves) and the alternative of a matriarchy of disdainful women who abuse their men physically and emotionally. My interest was finally piqued when he introduced the green religious zealots and the orange greedy merchants, as neither of them appeared to regularly beat up their own people. Sadly, it was too far into the novel for either to play much of a role.

I did enjoy the interesting twist he has put into the story of the blue matriarchs, but this is clearly only the first book of the series and nothing is resolved. One would have to read on to find out where his interesting idea leads.

I recommend this book to all those who like their fantasy darker and more violent than I do. I’m sure that’s a sizable group, and if you fall into this camp, I encourage you to check out this well-written series.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see All the World’s Colors: The Queen of the Blue.

 

False Light: An Art History Mystery

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Claudia Riess and her mystery novel, False Light: An Art History Mystery.

Author’s description

Academic sleuths Erika Shawn, art magazine editor, and Harrison Wheatley, a more seasoned art history professor, set out to tackle a brain teaser.  This time the couple—married since their encounter in Stolen Light, first in the series—attempt to crack the long un-deciphered code of art forger Eric Hebborn (1934-1996), which promises to reveal the whereabouts of a number of his brilliant Old Master counterfeits.  (Hebborn, in real life, was a mischievous sort, who had a fascination with letters and a love-hate relationship with art authenticators.  I felt compelled to devise a puzzler on his behalf!)

After publication of his memoir, Drawn to Trouble, published in 1991, he encrypts two copies with clues to the treasure hunt.  On each of the title pages, he pens a tantalizing explanatory letter.  One copy he sends to an art expert; the second, he releases into general circulation.  The catch: both books are needed to decipher the code.

When the books are at last united 25 years later, Erik and Harrison are enlisted to help unearth their hidden messages.  But when several research aides are brutally murdered, the academic challenge leads to far darker mysteries in the clandestine world of art crime.  As the couple navigate this sinister world, both their courage under fire and the stability of their relationship are tested.

My Review

False Light is a fun read, enhanced with a dose of real-life art history and made more interesting by the endearing romance of its two main characters.

The plot contains the requisite amount of clues, twists, and suspense, along with the genre-required action-filled climax, so I suspect most lovers of crime novels will enjoy it. However, I found its real charm to lie in three unexpected joys.

The first comes from Riess’s background. I have, at best, a passing acquaintance and mild interest in art, but I am captivated when an author brings expertise to a story like this. Claudia Riess helps her readers learn about masterpieces, forgeries, and auctions, without ever dumping information. (She got me looking into real-life art forger Eric Hebborn, and I’m always delighted to be introduced to a too-strange-to-be-fiction character.)

Another surprise is the relationship between the two lovers at the heart of this tale. They’ve gotten past the first hurdle of commitment (apparently in the previous novel) and now struggle to figure out how to live with their promises. I found their relationship compelling, and suspenseful in its own right. I appreciate an author who acknowledges falling in love is easy compared to making love work.

What didn’t I like? While the writing is generally okay, the pacing lags on occasion, particularly early on. Some parts required a little too much attention and rereading to follow multiple characters and complicated plot lines. Yet, none of this was enough of a problem to keep me from enjoying the story.

Years back, during a difficult time, I devoured J.D. Robb’s novels about a futuristic detective and her billionaire husband, and I realized there is this wonderful escapism involved in reading about the very wealthy solving crimes. (At least as long as they are nice people, which these characters are.) That brings me to the third pleasant surprise of this novel. Though Riess’s characters are unique to her story, their life of sumptuousness provided me with that same gentle nepenthe while their adventures held my interest.

As this virus has wreaked havoc with life, I’ve found myself eating rum raisin ice cream. That sweet treat is getting me through a lot these days. Why do I mention it here? Because when I finished this book I thought I’m glad I read this. In a world filled with too much frozen broccoli and canned soup — this is a rum raisin ice cream kind of a book. I plan to check out the author’s other flavors.

About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and has edited several art history monographs.

Find Claudia Riess at
https://www.amazon.com/Claudia-Riess/e/B001KHYQK2
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3052782.Claudia_Riess
https://twitter.com/ClaudiaRiesshttps://claudiariessbooks.com/
http://www.facebook.com/ClaudiaRiessBooks
https://www.instagram.com/claudiariessbooks/

Buy False Light: An Art History Mystery on Amazon. The book is on sale for only $0.99 during this tour.

Yes, there is a giveaway

Claudia Riess will be awarding a $50 Amazon or BN gift card to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour.

Enter here to win.

This post is part of a tour sponsored by Goddess Fish. Check out all the other tour stops. If you drop by each of these and comment, you will greatly increase your chances of winning.

GF

My Favorite Excerpt

Owen Grant was ebullient—“ripped with joy,” his beloved wife might have said. He smiled, remembering the flutter of her eyelids that accompanied her minted phrases. Now that she had died and his arthritis no longer permitted him to jog up a sweat, he satisfied his lust for life—which remained, five years after retirement, as vigorous as it had been in his teens—with voracious reading and clay sculpting. Today, however, he satisfied it with the Art and Antiques article that had set his heart racing when he’d come across it this morning while sifting through his mail. He stole another glance at the newsletter on the kitchen table. In the article, a used and rare book shop owner spoke about having acquired a copy of a memoir by Eric Hebborn, the infamous art forger. “It was in a carton I picked up at an estate sale,” the owner had said. “The author’s handwritten note on the title page literally blew my mind!”

Hebborn’s note was displayed in a photograph. Owen had recognized the handwriting at once. Imagine, after decades of searching for this copy of the book—placing ads in all the art magazines, later in their online versions, finally giving up—proof of it had fallen into his life as he was about to venture another sip of his scalding morning coffee.

Now it was 8:30 p.m., and there was nothing more to prepare for. Owen had contacted the shop owner—how young and breathless she had sounded!—and they had made plans to meet. He had invited his longtime friend and colleague, Randall Gray, to collaborate with him. Randall, twenty years his junior and still in the game, was more current in his knowledge of the world of art crime and eager to have a look at the book as well. Owen was on a skittering high, unable to concentrate on his usual avocations. Rather than wear a hole in the carpet pacing in circles, he opted for a walk in Central Park.

He headed for the nearest pedestrian entrance at Fifth Avenue and 72nd Street, two blocks from his luxury apartment building on 74th. There, he chose the rambling path leading to the Lake and Loeb Boathouse. It was a balmy night, on the warm side for mid-April. He might have stepped out in his shirtsleeves, but his conditioned urbanity, always at odds with his truer self, had held sway, and he had worn his suit jacket.

Aside from the couple strolling up ahead and the sound of laughter coming from somewhere south, Owen was alone. There had been an uptick of muggings lately, but his frisson of fear only piqued his excitement for the adventure shimmering on the horizon. As he walked, he silently chatted with his wife, Dotty, as he often did, so that their separation would not be absolute. He commented on the moonless night and looked up, for both of them, at the rarely visible canopy of stars. For a few seconds he was lost with her, until, without warning, he felt a hard object pressed against the back of his skull—the skull that held all memories, like Dotty’s fluttering eyelids and the smell of new clay. He knew what the object was without ever having touched one. He was a man of reason, not a fighter. He flung up his hands. “I have money. Let me get to it.”

There was no response. He reached into his pocket for his wallet—how warm the leather was against his thigh—and his keys jangled of homecomings, and the child in him whimpered please no, before the explosive pop of a champagne cork ended him and Dotty and all the rest of it.