YOU NEED A SCORECARD FOR THIS ONE
This is the debut novel in the Annie Kincaid Mystery series by the writing team of Hailey Lind. The book was an Agatha Award First Novel nominee in 2006.
Our protagonist, Annie Kincaid is a 31-year-old faux finish artist with a studio in San Francisco. She is also a restoration artist, a muralist, a portraitist and a former art forger in the Old Masters genre. That last talent, taught to her by her grandfather, surfaced at the age of 10 and ended at the age of 17 when she finally got caught and jailed in Paris. Determined to be a legitimate artist since that time, she has struggled to survive. Losing her job as a restoration artist at a major museum in SF when her juvenile record was exposed, she is now a pariah in the museum circles. However, she has built a business based on the architectural side of decorative painting, does murals and commission work in portraiture and is occasionally consulted by galleries and collectors to evaluate items for authenticity.
It is this exceptional skill for art forgery and detecting forgery that prompts the curator of the very museum that fired her to secretly seek her opinion on a Caravaggio called “The Magi.” Less than an hour after her midnight appraisal determining the painting to be a fake, a night guard for the museum is murdered, the curator has disappeared, and Annie is in a race against time to find both the forger and several missing originals. She is also in a race for her life, chased by both the thieves and a patron who has been deceived by the thieves.
Not only does this book introduce us to Annie, it introduces us to her supporting cast which consists of her assistant, Mary; a fellow artist in her studio building complex, Pete; and her computer guru, Pedro.
More importantly, this story introduces us to J. Frank DeBenton, her new uber wealthy and socially connected landlord, and Michael Xerxes Johnson, an international art thief with as many aliases and personas as an entire police undercover division. Whether these two become competing romantic interests in Annie’s life remains to be see. However, in this novel, they are definitely the sources of both great tribulation and blessed salvation for the beleaguered Annie before the story reaches its conclusion.
The author has created a serious and complex mystery involving the art world. In fact, it is so complex and is so rife with suspects, villains and conspirators that the reader practically needs to keep a scorecard in one hand with the book in the other. But that complexity is relieved by recaps and humor and the occasional kidnapping, arson, abandonment and murder.
One technique that the author uses is particularly helpful with the scorecard. Hailey Lind has Annie assign associative nicknames to many of the characters, particularly if they have not been formally introduced or have been introduced under stressful circumstances. Thus, we wind up with Hulk, Fonz, Goon, Mr. Suave, Ichabod, et cetera and so on. J. Frank DeBenton is Fender Bender, for more than one reason, and Michael Xerxes Johnson, with all his aliases, simply becomes the X-man.
By the time the villains are all accounted for, sort of, and the hint for the next story in the series is revealed, Hailey Lind will have created for us a female protagonist that is earthbound, talented, determined and real. The author team has also created, in Annie, a woman who has no sense of self-preservation whatsoever. She has a mouth that runs full bore ahead of her brain, she is feisty and her internal monologues are hilarious.
The novel provided a good beginning for the series. Nobody fell in love at first sight, everyone has their share of faults and the potential exists for the story to go in multiple directions.
Cover Art from Goodreads