Arsenic and Old Paint: The Art Lover's Mystery Series
by Hailey Lind
Cover Artist: Julie Goodson Lawes
Review by Cathy Green
Perseverance Press Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781564744906
Date: 09 September 2010 List Price $14.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
At the start of Arsenic And Old Paint, former art forger Annie Kincaid's faux finishing and decorative painting business seems to have finally had some major success. She's gotten a job redoing rooms on one of the upper floors of the Fleming Mansion, home of the old money San Francisco men's club the Fleming-Union. Also she and, allegedly reformed art thief and former love interest, Michael X. Johnson are running an art investigation business with the blessing of the FBI Art Squad. Of course, nothing in Annie Kincaid's life goes smoothly for very long. Michael Johnson's disappeared, which wouldn't be a huge problem except that he's on parole and he's supposed to be her business partner. More importantly, while working at the Fleming Mansion, Annie and her assistant hear a scream, run downstairs and find a maid, Destiny, trying to pull a sword out of a very obviously dead body in a bathtub. Annie instantly recognizes that the body has been posed like Jacques Louis David's painting The Death of Marat.
While the police do not suspect Annie, at least not initially, given the power and influence of the club members, she is concerned that the maid will be railroaded. Therefore, she cannot help but investigate. Meanwhile, she's approached by Jarrah Preston, an insurance investigator from New Zealand, who is on the trail of a stolen Gauguin. A forgery of the painting had shown up at auction and brought Preston to San Francisco. When Preston shows the forged Gauguin to Annie, she instantly recognizes it as her Uncle Anton's work, although she doesn't tell Preston that. Annie pays Anton a visit and he tells her to back off, in part because the Odibajian brothers ended up with the forgery, and they are not to be messed with. Before Annie can go back and press her uncle Anton further, he's poisoned with arsenic. The police think he may have accidentally done it himself, given the old paints he used. Annie is not convinced and thinks it may be related to the forged painting and whatever Anton had gotten mixed up in.
It turns out the Odibajian brothers are members of the Fleming-Union club and that the dead man in the bathtub was Elijah Odibajian. Annie's efforts to find out what her uncle Anton was up to lead her to Chinatown, where she learns of tunnels that may have once existed under Chinatown and under Nob Hill. Her investigation hits a bit of a snag when she finds out that the Fleming-Union had a secret art gallery and that the club is now claiming that some of the paintings were stolen and implying that she may have stolen them. Next thing she knows, she's been fired, albeit with a fat check that pays her in full for the restoration contract, and her access to the club has been cut off. While the Fleming-Union members may have intended this as a message to get her to back off, it produces the opposite result. Annie is determined to get to the bottom of things and protect her fragile good reputation.
Lind manages to keep all the plot threads involving the murder, the various stolen artworks, and Annie's personal life straight and tie them all together at the end. There is also a somewhat amusing outing where Annie takes all her friends with her to a swinger's S&M club when she's trying to locate a witness. This is the fourth book in Hailey Lind's Art Lover's Mystery series.
It is not necessary to have read the other books in the series to appreciate Arsenic And Old Paint. All the mysteries are stand-alone, and enough information is given about the recurring characters' personal lives that there is no disadvantage to not having read all three earlier books in the series. For instance, I had read Shooting Gallery, but not Feint Of Art or Brush With Death, and had no trouble following what was going on with the characters or the plot. Fans of the series will definitely want to read Arsenic And Old Paint, and anyone who enjoys the amateur investigator type of murder mystery should enjoy this book as well.