Tag Archives: art theft

Classic Naples-based series says adieu with class

Death in the Dark, by Kinley Roby. Privately published. 277 pages. Kindle e-book $2.99.

This is Mr. Roby’s 11th and final Harry Brock Mystery. Though he had planned for it to be the last, an unexpected dilemma must have sullied the closure experience a bit. Accidentally deleting the almost completed text file and its backup from his computer (a cautionary tale, writer friends), he had to laboriously reconstruct his narrative. In the interim, the publisher of the first ten series titles decided to abandon the detective fiction genre, leaving the author with little choice but to self-publish it via Amazon’s Digital Services division.  

The good news is that it is here, but so far only as an e-book. A confessed fan of the series, I found it once again meeting the high bar of the others in most ways. Readers may trip over the typos of one kind or another that haven’t yet been corrected, but there are still so many things to enjoy.

Roby sets the series in a disguised version of Naples and environs. Those familiar with the area will have fun penetrating the place names (such as “Vienna Village”) the author invents for familiar locations, as well his presentation of the cultural environment.


Harry is still running his PI business, patrolling the patch of government land called Bartram’s Hammock on the edge of the Everglades. He inhabits a small house in exchange for warden duties, and he gets mixed up in cases that also involve local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. And, as in past adventures, beautiful women are omnipresent.

He is still spending time with his older friend and neighbor Tucker. These aging outdoorsmen are still doing a bit of farming. It’s a delight that Kinley Roby allows us to see them tending to pets with whom they carry on conversations. Harry and Tucker are an intelligent, humorous odd couple. Tucker’s niece Delia, temporarily living with her uncle, is one of several attractive women whom Harry admires and with whom a relationship almost blooms.

Plot? An enormous international trade in stolen art run by cutthroat thieves is leaving a trail of bodies and threatens to leave more if Harry and the law enforcement officials can’t put a stop to the menace. Some of those involved in this illicit industry are on the edge of cooperating with the authorities to save their own lives and perhaps some of their filthy lucre. The ins and outs of the complex schemes that all sides are hatching create the intellectual stimulation that Kinley Roby’s novels always deliver.

The dialogue between Harry and his friends in uniform captures the nature of their relationships as well as the ways professionals develop and refine plans designed to take down the criminals. Mr. Roby’s characters are well-delineated by their patterns of speech and other tools of this writer’s trade. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 15, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the March 16 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Death in the Dark

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Maryland’s Eastern Shore remains fertile ground for exciting series

The Tempest, by James Lilliefors. Witness Impulse. 416 pages. Trade paperback $11.99.

This new addition to the Bowers and Hunter mystery series, properly promoted, is going to gain James Lilliefors a huge chunk more of the readers his work deserves.

Walter Kepler, in the big leagues of fine art dealers, has a plan. It involves a lot of money (millions) changing hands and a stolen Rembrandt changing hands as well. But the final stage of the transfer is a secret – a secret that will seem like a miracle when it is revealed. To accomplish his ends, he needs the help of contractor and land developer Nicholas Champlain; an assassin named Belasco; and Jacob Weber, Kepler’s lawyer and confidante. TheTempest.Jpeg

Nick Champlain and his attractive, much younger wife Susan had rented a place in Tidewater County for the summer, leading a very private life. Mostly, Susan was around by herself, not quite fitting in, but attending the Methodist church where Luke Bowers was pastor. To Luke’s wife Charlotte, Susan seemed troubled. In confidence, Susan tells Luke that her marriage has become difficult. Nick is keeping tabs on her, and making threatening statements.

They’d had a dreadful argument over a photograph Susan had taken. She also reveals that he seems to be involved in a sensitive, clandestine project, something he can’t talk about – but the implication is that the photograph could put the project at risk. Luke wishes to be helpful, but before long Susan is found dead.

Luke’s good friend, State Police Homicide Detective Amy Hunter, is only marginally involved in the investigation until enough facts turn up to label it a homicide. Then it’s her case.



Or is it? Before long, the FBI is involved, but the FBI is concerned with building a case against Walter Kepler, who has been a suspect in international art theft crimes for many years. The FBI agent who pushes his way into Amy’s investigation heads a special art theft division. He seems to have an obsessive grudge against Kepler. The county sheriff also is a thorn in Amy’s side.

Still, she holds her own, aided by a supportive boss and some inside information from her ex-boyfriend, who happens to be an FBI agent. However, her major support comes through her two competent subordinates and – of course – Parson Luke. Luke is her necessary sounding board and moral yardstick.

As Kepler pursues his miracle and Amy pursues Susan Champlain’s killer, readers get a well-drawn overview of the Middle Atlantic region. Places, people, and events in and around Philadelphia become important to the investigation. Author Lilliefors handles the multiple settings and the transit from one to another with masterful skill. . . .


To read the entire review, as it appears in the August 19, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 20 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – The Tempest

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Music-themed thriller hits all the right notes

The Lost Concerto, by Helaine Mario. Oceanview Publishing. 348 pages. Hardcover $27.95.

Picturesque, passionate, and pulse-pounding, Ms. Mario’s second novel is a gem of a thriller that has the taste and aroma of a perfectly blended wine. The author has given us entrances into classical music, art theft, terrorism, clandestine government operations, and romance.  LostConcertohi-res

Magdalena “Maggie” O’Shea is a concert pianist who has recently lost her husband Johnny, an investigative journalist. Though still wrestling with grief and loss, Maggie agrees to aid a government operative who feels that finding Maggie’s godson is the key to bringing down a terrorist operation. The boy’s murdered mother, Sofia Orsini, had been Maggie’s best friend. Sofia’s husband, Victor, might be the murderer.

Do Victor’s rare art and music manuscript holdings bankroll terrorist enterprises? Are his riches dependent on the stolen art his father had collected? Is he a rogue CIA operative? Or is he used by the CIA and other agencies to accomplish their devious ends? Johnny O’Shea was getting close to figuring this out. Johnny’s journal is Maggie’s guide to find out what happened to Sofia and Johnny, and also to finding Tommy – who she had sworn to protect.

Swinging into action begins to bring this emotionally lost woman back from her overwhelming despair. To the espionage agents, her code name is Concerto, thus book’s title has resonance as a tag for its protagonist as well as for a particular composition.

Helaine Mario

Helaine Mario

Long before Johnny had entered her world, Zachary Law had been the love of Maggie’s life. Their romance was mysteriously aborted, though Maggie gave birth to their son – now a thirty year old concert artist. Zachary enters the novel at a strategic moment, but I cannot go any further than whetting your appetite for this complication.

Special agent Simon Sugarman and Colonel Michael Beckett become Maggie’s handlers, though she is less concerned with their mission than her own – that of finding Tommy and, if necessary, rescuing him. Mike Beckett shadows Maggie’s movements and tries to keep the headstrong woman on a leash for her own safety. Slowly, inevitably, he falls in love with her. But a romantic relationship is not what a man in his profession can risk.

Knowing that Maggie has positioned as bait to draw out Victor Orsini and others, Mike does all he can to protect her. He is a truly original character, at once rugged and tender, with an unexpected sophistication for an outdoorsman. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the June 24, 2015 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the June 25 Naples, Bonita Springs, and Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Helaine Mario. Follow me on Twitter @phil_reviews and also see the terrific trailer for the book: http://youtu.be/yxAYieoZRxg


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An impassioned debut novel about the Nazi campaign against “degenerate art”

Fugitive Colors, by Lisa Barr. GIRLilla Warfare Press. 398 pages. $12.95 trade paperback.

Mixing romance and horror, history and imagination, high art and double-dealing artifice, Lisa Barr has fashioned a dynamic page-turner of young artists caught up in the Nazis rise to power and their leaders attempted control over the definition, sanctioning, and purposes of art.

We first meet Yakov Klein as a young child, then as a rebellious teenager in an Orthodox Chicago family. Chaffing at the restraints that surround him, Yakov feels compelled to replace his traditional Judaism with the religion of art. Learning about art and becoming an artist drive him to abandon his roots and strike out on his own, first in New York, and later in Paris. FugitiveColors_FRONTCover

As Julian Klein, he sets aside his opportunity to attend a reputable Paris art school to team up with his new, adventurous friends and learn from their master teacher. The bonds between Felix, Rene, Julian grow powerful, as they spur each other on to finding their true styles and subjects. Their degree of mutual support is frequently compromised by their extreme competitiveness. And they compete not only for artistic supremacy but for the beautiful young women, fellow artist Adrienne and unscrupulous model Charlotte, who are part of their circle.

The competition is primarily between the enormously talented Rene and the ambitious but mediocre Felix. Rene’s success embitters Felix, though he keeps up the semblance of friendship. Julian tends to be the peacemaker, a satellite figure who needs more time to find his own direction.

Their personal stories, romances, and dizzying artistic enterprise become more and more folded into the story of Hitler’s rise and its effects on the world of European art. Just as Nazi policy will include an ethnic cleansing of non-Aryan populations, most notably Jews, it will also include a cultural cleansing of what it considers depraved art. Guess what? It considers all of the revolutionary schools of art developed in the early 20th century to be decadent and thus a threat to the Uber Race.  lisa_Barr-headshot

Julian, Rene, and other fight to save the art, the artists, and the gallery owners (Rene’s father prominent among them) who create or foster the iconoclastic modern and contemporary masters. Felix, by now, has returned to his German roots and taken on a major role in the Nazi project.

The Nazi plan is to steal or otherwise confiscate the decadent artworks and sell them at top prices to help fill the Nazi coffers. Julian becomes involved as a sort of spy, and both he and Rene end up severely beaten and imprisoned in Dachau for their attempts to thwart the Nazi plan. It seems almost incidental that Julian, Rene, and Adrienne are Jewish, for Ms. Barr’s emphasis suggests that the art issue is looming much larger than the ethnic issue at this time (early and mid 1930s).

Lisa Barr’s own literary brushstrokes carry all the colors of passion. As she builds her characters, sets her scenes, and considers the power of art and artistic genius, she paints a very rich canvas. Her descriptions of artworks and of artists at work are dazzling, evoking the longings, fears, manias, and even the hatreds released in the kaleidoscope of colors and shapes. There is a lushness of descriptive imagery that is intoxicating, though it is sometimes overdone.

Fugitive Colors is, in part, a celebration of youth, self-discovery, loyalty, and infatuation. Julian is over and over again acting against his best interest in his subordination to Rene’s needs, enthusiasm, and plans of action. As an intermediary between Rene and Felix, he walks a careful and dangerous line. His relationships with Adrienne and Charlotte are part of a complex puzzle of shifting erotic patterns.

It is ironic that a novel so concerned with celebrating the joy of art and artistic sensibility is also a novel that explores the murderous ends of ambition and jealousy, both on the individual and the collective scale. Extreme passion seems to obey no laws but its own.

Fugitive Colors has a cinematic feel. I can’t keep from trying to cast the parts for a blockbuster film based on this novel. Such qualities have already been recognized: the manuscript won first prize at the Hollywood Film Festival for “Best Unpublished Manuscript.” Read it and you’ll see what I mean.

This review appears in the January 2013 issues of Federation Star (Jewish Federation of Collier Count, FL), L’Chayim (Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties), and The Jewish News (Jewish Federation of Sarasota/Manatee).

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