On one hand, Dani O’Rourke, chief fundraiser for the Devor Museum in San Francisco, can be forgiven for thinking a trip back East to serve as a consultant at a quaint New England college sounds like a pleasant distraction.
Not one to turn down an interesting professional endeavor—the consulting job involves overseeing the donation of a large art collection, as well as a twenty million dollar endowment—Dani heads to Lynthorpe College in Bridgetown, Massachusetts for what is billed as a straightforward one-week review. She’s there less than a day, however, when it becomes clear there is some dissension amongst the bigwigs at the school about the terms of the donation.
It seems the donor, school alumnus Vincent Margoletti, while never outright accused or indicted, has been involved in some business deals during his climb to wealth that some have found shady at best. And for some strange reason he’s pushing the college to accept the donation immediately, before Dani’s vetting process is completed, with a not so implied threat of its withdrawal otherwise.
Before Dani can have a sit-down with the college’s vice president most concerned about the donation, the man turns up dead on the local golf course, apparently drowned in one of the water hazards. When a second death occurs barely a day later—also someone working on the donation project—Dani has no choice but to accept the fact she finds herself, once again, mixed up with murder.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can give to author Susan Shea is that even though I’m someone who doesn’t normally read so-called cozy mysteries, I absolutely adore the Dani O’Rourke series. Then, for my money, Shea’s writing wonderfully skirts the line between traditional cozy and straight-up crime fiction. Though the violence is not gratuitous and there is no profanity to speak of, neither does the action all conveniently take place off-stage, either. Dani, much to her chagrin, finds herself up close and personal with both bodies and suspects. And just as the O’Rourke mystery plots manage to keep one foot on either side of the cozy/traditional crime line, so does Dani herself.
While not a police officer, bounty hunter or private investigator, neither is Dani some eccentric homebody with a wacky quirk who sets out to poke her nose into amateur sleuthing. She’s an intelligent professional who works in the extremely high-stakes world of contemporary art. She doesn’t seek out the situations she gets mixed up with, but neither does she turn into a shrinking violet either. And if you think there’s not enough “juice” in the art world to justify murder, check out Shea’s guest post to see the kind of mind-blowing numbers paintings are going for at auction these days, and some of the brassy heists that have occurred by criminals hot to get their hands on priceless works.
Shea, herself active as a non-profit executive for over two decades, brings first-hand knowledge of how things work in that world to her writing, which, when combined with a smooth infusion of information about how a multi-million dollar art collection and endowment donation process unfolds, makes for reading that is both exciting and educational, a rare and welcome combination. And though I highly recommend all the Dani O’Rourke books, you can jump right in with this one if you’re new to series, so go ahead… get Mixed Up With Murder.
Mixed Up With Murder is available from Reputation Books (ISBN: 978-0986203138).