Blue Smoke and Murder
by Elizabeth Lowell
Review by Beth Slater
William Morrow Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060829858
Date: 01 June 2008 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
For Jill Breck, the river is her life. It is another day on the river when she saves the life of one of her charges. But to Joe Faroe of St. Kilda's Consulting, it has earned her the privilege of a favor –- whenever and whatever. Jill can't imagine ever needing assistance of such magnitude until she inherits her great-aunt's ranch and the family's secret hoard of unsigned Western art paintings –- paintings that may have gotten her great-aunt killed and her house and outbuildings burnt to the ground by arson. When Jill tries to track down the painting her aunt sent off to be appraised, she barely escapes with her life. Will Joe Faroe and his consulting agency be able to help her or has she finally found rapids she can't maneuver her way out of?
Jill calls Joe from a hotel room in the middle of nowhere for help, and in short order there is a knock on her door from a strange man offering St. Kilda's name -– and his name, Zach Balfour. Zach, about to go on vacation, dreads this assignment, envisioning yet another bimbo with shopping on her mind, and is quite pleasantly surprised to find the logical, athletic, and down-to-earth woman who is, unfortunately, afraid for her life. The two, however, have art in common, which makes them a formidable pair in trying to find the missing painting and the reason behind the death threats and attempts on Jill's life, and the possible murder of her great aunt over some seemingly worthless, unsigned Western art. The two are like two sides of a coin – Jill's fine arts degree and Zach's apprenticeship at the side of an untrained master manage to get them through the deeper waters of the art world, dodging bullets and snide remarks alike to find the truth, at all costs.
Lowell manages to build the suspense of the storyline while interweaving the romance, an apparently natural attraction between the two protagonists, and add in several sub-plots at the same time. There could have been more character development for the main people, but the story was just shy of too many characters to keep track of so more back story might have been too much. I've read some of her previous work, but the St. Kilda's Consulting connection didn't ring any bells, so it may have been too long ago, but one doesn't need it to understand the concept or the other characters.
This is a straightforward romantic suspense with some action but not gory or sexually explicit. Not for the cozy readers, but not even close to erotica at the same time. I liked Jill and Zach and expect that she will be including them in some of her future stories.