Published by Crooked Lane Books Genres: Mystery, Cozy Mystery
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
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Also in this series: A Legacy of Murder
In Connie Berry's third Kate Hamilton mystery, American antique dealer Kate Hamilton's spring is cut short when a body turns up at the May Fair pageant.
Spring is a magical time in England—bluebells massing along the woodland paths, primrose and wild thyme dotting the meadows. Antiques dealer Kate Hamilton is spending the month of May in the Suffolk village of Long Barston, enjoying precious time with Detective Inspector Tom Mallory. While they are attending the May Fair, the annual pageant based on a well-known Anglo-Saxon folktale, a body turns up in the middle of the festivities.
Kate is even more shocked when she learns the murder took place in antique shop owner Ivor Tweedy's stockroom, and a valuable Chinese pottery jar that she had been tasked with finding a buyer for has been stolen. Ivor may be ruined. Insurance won't cover a fraction of the loss.
As Tom leads the investigation, Kate begins to see puzzling parallels between the murder and local legends. The more she learns, the more convinced she is that the solution to both crimes lies in the misty depths of Anglo-Saxon history and a generations-old pattern of betrayal. It's up to Kate to unravel this Celtic knot of lies and deception to save Ivor's business.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
A murder with its roots in the past…
Murder and antiques collide again in the third book in Connie Berry’s series about American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton and her British suitor, Detective Inspector Tom Mallory.
The Art of Betrayal opens with Kate minding the shop for her friend Ivor, who is recovering from a double hip replacement. A nervous, mysterious woman brings in a húnpíng, a Chinese funerary jar with an intricacately detailed top. Kate’s sixth sense—one she tries very hard to explain away scientifically—tells her it is authentic, so when the woman asks her to take the jar on consignment, Kate signs the contract with only a small qualm. But when the woman is killed and the húnpíng stolen from Ivor’s storage room, Kate is determined to help Tom solve the case and recover the húnpíng to save Ivor’s reputation (not to mention his finances.) A long-lost daughter, a local legend, a nearby auction house whose partners seem a little over-eager, and a secretive Chinese society seeking to return looted Chinese art treasures all add to the complexity of the case.
The book (and the whole series) straddles the line between cozy and traditional mystery; it combines the amateur detective and village setting of a cozy mystery with the more serious, realistic elements of a traditional mystery—and even, thanks to Tom’s presence, a few scenes reminiscent of a police procedural. Kate, who narrates in first person, is a well-developed and likeable character: a widow in her mid- to late-forties, with two adult children, she has been falling for Tom since they met in Scotland in A Dream of Death. Like Kate, Tom is widowed; he lives in Suffolk, near the village of Long Barton (the site of the second book in the series, A Legacy of Murder, as well as of Ivor’s shop.) Kate’s relationship with Tom is complicated, not by their mutual attraction but by distance—she owns an antiques shop in the US; he’s a police detective in the UK—and by Tom’s mother, who is the opposite of enthusiastic about Tom’s relationship with Kate. That relationship, a mature but by no means staid romance, is one of the things I like best about the books, along with the character of Kate herself. She comes across as a real person, someone I could easily be friends with. I particularly appreciate her determination not to give in to her more negative feelings, like jealousy or anger. It’s not that she doesn’t experience those feelings, but she tries not to act on them, which saves a lot of unecessary drama and angst and seems very realistic for a woman of her (or my) age.
Another thing I love is Berry’s propensity to play fair with the reader. You see everything through Kate’s eyes and are privy to her thoughts; there are no clues withheld from you. If you pay attention, you have as much chance as Kate to solve the mystery. In the last book, I figured out the solution(s) about the same time Kate did. In this one, I was slightly ahead of her in solving several pieces of the puzzle, but the murderer’s identity did come as a bit of a surprise… or at least, some of it did.
I also enjoy the world Berry has created. Yes, this book and the last are set in and around Suffolk and Essex, but the village of Long Barton, its surroundings, and its inhabitants are entirely Berry’s creation… and they feel utterly real. Berry’s England isn’t an idealized American vision, all cottagecore and afternoon tea. Tom and his colleagues are investigating a large-scale drug operation in the county; Kate’s friend, Lady Barbara Finchley-fforde, is anxious to keep her lovely, crumbling Elizabethan manor from disintegrating before the National Trust can take over; and the people living in the area exhibit a variety of class and ethnic backgrounds (including several from former British colonies.) These secondary characters are less developed than Kate or even Tom, but they too come across as real people, with lives and dreams and disappointments we catch only glimpses of.
Kate’s involvement in what proves to be a complex mystery deepens when Tom’s antagonistic boss, at Tom’s urging, hires her as a consultant to inventory the victim’s late husband’s art collection; the estate’s solicitors ask her do to the same for them. Tom has a healthy respect for Kate’s insight and intelligence (not that he’s lacking in either trait himself), so between her commissions and the information Tom shares with her, Kate’s involvement in the case appears both natural and inevitable.
Berry makes it easy to jump into the series at any point, giving you the necessary background information without making it feel like an awkward info dump. All the same, if you prefer to follow the characters’ developing relationships from the beginning, I would suggest starting with A Dream of Death.
The Art of Betrayal comes out on June 8, 2021.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- COYER Seasons 2021: Spring