Book Reviews: Heir Today by J.J. & Bette Golden Lamb and A Nearly Perfect Copy by Allison Amend

Heir TodayHeir Today
J.J. & Bette Golden Lamb
Five Star Mysteries, August 2005
ISBN: 978-1-59414-356-4

Paige Alper, free-lance writer and her husband, Max, receive a letter from a tracer firm in New York. For a hefty fee, the letter says, the heir tracers will locate a dead relative’s assets and hand over some money. The dead relative is, of course, a black sheep, the most fascinating member of her family and a world-wandering sailor whom she doesn’t see much of. Nor does her sister who turns out to be a ten-carat bitch and even more interesting, even though she has only a minor role in the story.

Paige’s sister Sheryl, is a grasping, quick-buck hausfrau who wants to immediately sign away her rights and get whatever small amount of cash is available. Paige, more astute, more suspicious and less in need of quick cash, declines to sign. She and her husband, crusading free-lance journalist Max, set out to find Uncle Jock’s money. Family conflict and some fine spats between sisters is one result.

What Max and Paige don’t realize is that an evil Chinese organization with world-wide interests and tentacles has also been stalking Uncle Jock. That’s because Jock, incautious sailor that he was, had for years been collecting damaging evidence against the Hong Kong based crime syndicate. Jock was on a personal vendetta.

If this all sounds a little like that old comic strip “Terry and the Pirates,” it’s not surprising. Nevertheless, Paige and Max are fun characters to follow, and even if their dialogue is sometimes right out of the forties, it’s clear they have a solid relationship and are very supportive of each other. Couple conflict is not really in their makeup.

That’s a good thing because their search takes them from the Far East up and down the California Coast, and to New York, among other places. They are attacked in any number of ingenious ways and it’s a wonder they make it through even a single day with the power of the huge, malevolent, Asian gang arrayed against them. They do survive to fight another day and it really is a lot of fun following this breathless pair on foot, on motorbike and by car, train and plane to a final solution. The book sports an intriguing cover and an awkward title. I confess to not generally liking punning titles.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.


A Nearly Perfect CopyA Nearly Perfect Copy
Allison Amend
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday,
ISBN 978-0-385-53669-1

This is an amazing, enthralling novel. The characters of the two primary protagonists are so carefully and even lovingly developed, that one can reach the final pages and experience an unsettling sense of loss. The novel is about loss, the loss of friendship and professional respect, of a cherished child, the loss of a treasured inheritance, and the loss of moral integrity.

The story, impeccably told, revolves around two people, both involved in the international art world. Elmira Howells works for her family’s Manhattan auction house. She holds a solid reputation as an expert in seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth century drawings and prints. Her family house, Tinsleys, is a long-established powerhouse in international art auction activities.

In Paris, a displaced Spanish artist, Gabriel Connois is experiencing yet another disappointment in a promising career as a painter that is going nowhere fast. Ultimately decisions by each of these individuals, though they might never meet or even become aware of each other, will materially alter their lives forever.

Smoothly written with impeccable style, through the careful development of these two characters, we come to deeper understanding of family and motherhood, of tragedy and loss and how sometimes thoughtless and casual decisions can substantively bring one to the edge of legal and ethical ruin. The twisting slippery maze of connection, favors, and political maneuverings of the art world will be revelatory to many, and the perception that the true value of art is so problematical only adds to the depth of this novel.

This is not a novel in which authorities and experts pursue art criminals and blatant forgers. There are no shootouts or mysterious late-night rendezvous. The crimes that take place, the cloning, and the forgeries, are more subtle and harsh blame more difficult to assign. I was not prepared to feel sympathy for Elm Howells, in spite of her loss. She is not, in the end a very sympathetic character, nor is the flailing if talented artist, Gabriel Connois. Yet, in the end, when Elm finally encounters for the first time the artist Gabriel whose work helped bring about her downfall, she realizes that he could never understand—even if he knew—“that she was both the artist and the forger of her own life.”

Readers with the slightest interest in the art world or in family tragedy will find this novel fascinating.

A copy of the work was supplied at no cost.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.