The King’s Jar by Susan C. Shea

Susan C. SheaI was beginning to think this particular treasure was very bad luck. — Dani O’Rourke

Dani O’Rourke, chief fundraiser at San Francisco’s prestigious Devor Museum of Art and Antiquities, knows a thing or two about both treasures and bad luck. In her position at the museum, Dani has the good fortune to be surrounded by some of the greatest paintings, sculptures and relics from the world of art, past and present.

She is also, however, apparently a magnet for bad luck, as evidenced by her misadventures in Murder in the Abstract, the first entry in the series. The follow-up, The King’s Jar, once again finds Dani juggling more than just socialite dinner seating charts and the egos of the über rich.

The newest exhibit at the Devor is mere weeks from opening when its centerpiece, the recently acquired King’s Jar, a legendary African artifact, goes missing. Complicating matters tremendously, the archeological expert who discovered and authenticated the piece is murdered, and there subsequently arises some ambiguity as to who exactly legally owns the piece: the museum, which hadn’t technically taken receipt of the piece yet; the socialite couple who were donating it to the museum; or the government of the country in which it was discovered, which now alleges the piece was removed from their borders illegally.

The police are justifiably more interested in solving the murder than they are locating the missing artifact, but Dani believes the quickest way to find the killer is to find the King’s Jar. And given the massive influx of money the museum stands to lose if the exhibit doesn’t open on time, both from patrons’ donations and revenue from visitors to the exhibit, Dani’s interest in locating the King’s Jar is more than academic…the museum’s very future may depend on it. So, it’s once more unto the breach for Dani and dear friends.

Readers of my blog will know that my reading tends to be fairly firmly rooted in hard-hitting crime fiction and noir, the darker the better. The word cozy, while not as apt to get a sideways look from me now as it would have 5 years ago, is still not one you’ll find me uttering with any frequency. There are, however, two authors whose writing talents are so undeniable they have completely won me over to their “hard-edged” cozy series: Joelle Charbonneau (Rebecca Robbins / Paige Marshall mysteries) is one, and Susan C. Shea is the other.

In Dani O’Rourke, Shea has created a character who wonderfully skirts the line between traditional cozy and straight-up crime fiction. While there is not overt graphic violence or gratuitous bad language in the Dani O’Rourke stories, it is hardly sanitized writing either. Murder is committed, more than once, and words harsher than “phooey” and “gosh darn” are uttered. Both the violence and the profanity, however, are handled with a subtle and nuanced touch, as are Dani’s moments of indecision and self-doubt–after all, she’s not an experienced investigator or martial arts/weapons master, and understandably stops to question just what the hell she’s gotten herself into on more than one occasion.

Fortunately for readers, what Dani’s gotten herself into is another wholly pleasing (mis)adventure. Shea’s own experience as a fundraiser shines through in the wonderfully detailed peek behind the curtain of high-stakes fundraising Dani engages in for the Devor, and Shea has also clearly not skimped in her research into the world of art acquisition and the movement of antiquities out of their countries of discovery, and the potential red tape and backroom dealings that can surround that.

As she did in Murder in the Abstract, Shea also once again provides Dani with an exemplary cast of supporting characters. Both Dani’s infuriatingly charming and wealthy ex-husband, Richard Argetter III, and the low-key but highly attractive Inspector Charles Sugarman are back, and Dani’s colorful and assertive personal assistant, Teeni, is given a most welcome larger role in this outing. Rounding out the cast are an assortment of high strung and high net worth members of San Francisco’s “high society,” a globetrotting reality TV star, a group of eccentric eggheads, diplomats from the King’s Jar’s home country, and an off-the-charts neurotic grad student who was a disciple of the murdered archeologist.

What that all adds up to is no shortage of suspects and a read as enlightening as it is entertaining. If you like cozies, you’ll love The King’s Jar. And if you don’t consider yourself a cozy reader, well, neither did I until relatively recently, so do yourself a favor and give it a try. I think you’ll be more than pleasantly surprised to discover the treasure that is The King’s Jar.

The King’s Jar is available from Top Five Books (ISBN: 978-1938938047).

Susan C. Shea moved from an early career in journalism to a second one as an executive and then head of her own consulting practice. She ran marketing, fundraising, and communications programs for a variety of prestigious organizations, picking up good stories along the way. In 2006, she made the break she had been dreaming of, quitting her day job to write fiction full time as a third career. She’s a member of the board of the northern California Sisters in Crime, and a past board member of Norcal’s Mystery Writers of America. Susan’s a transplanted New Yorker, and a lover of exotic places, fine art, great food, and sparkling events – just like Dani O’Rourke, her series protagonist. To learn more about Susan, visit her website.

No comments yet.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.