Saturday, September 20, 2014

Classic Mystery Puzzle With Dash of Romance: HARBOR ISLAND, Carla Neggers

The new Sharpe and Donovan mystery from Carla Neggers, HARBOR ISLAND, came out just as the garden demanded harvesting and pickling, but I managed to stay up extra late and keep reading -- because Neggers is a storyteller who constantly nudges the next "and then ..." into place.

FBI Agent Emma Sharpe's new status as fiancée of another FBI agent, Colin Donovan, hasn't yet been announced to her family, and there's always a fresh conflict of interest for her on the job: Which is more her core, her agent status or her family's profession in solving art crimes? Added to that, Colin's still wondering how she'll handle the engagement, considering that her past includes a season in Maine as a postulant -- not quite a nun, but to Colin and his brothers, there's not much difference.

True to classic Neggers style, the author juggles Emma and Colin's uncertainties with the way each of them is called to step into danger to chase the art thief they've hunted for in Ireland in a preceding book. And now the thief seems to have followed them home to New England and may be turning violent -- a sudden death by gunshot of an informant can't be a coincidence, can it?

HARBOR ISLAND is also a traditional puzzle mystery, as it sets up a small cast of characters and moves the question around the group: Motive? Means? Opportunity? Will it be Emma or Colin who finally cracks the case?

A big part of the charm of this series is its settings, from Boston to Maine to Ireland and back again. Count on each clue holding some meaning, neat twist of plot, and tidbits about Irish whiskey tucked in often. This isn't quite a "cozy" mystery, as the sleuths are professionals, not amateurs, but between the romance and the landscapes, it's a gentle read, ideal for unwinding by an autumn woodstove with a cup of tea and a cat. Or something even sweeeter.

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