Friday, September 19, 2014

Contemporary Fiction: Harbor Island by Carla Neggers

I was sent Carla Negger's Harbor Island, which is the fourth book in her series of novels featuring art crime expert Emma Sharpe. I figured it would be somewhat difficult giving this book a fair review seeing as how I am coming into the series at book #4 and wouldn't have time to go through the first three. But I was willing to give it a shot and see if this was a series I would be willing to follow through to the end.

The Situation: Ex-nun and art crime expert Emma Sharpe recently became engaged to Colin, a deep-cover FBI agent that she works with. They've had somewhat of a whirlwind romance, and they're keeping their engagement a secret as it can cause problems in an already complicated situation. Emma is already the granddaughter of the great art crime detective Wendell Sharpe, and a thief that he had investigated ten years ago has become active again, so all eyes are on Emma. Most of the time, having Emma on the team is seen as a good thing, but they are also aware that if she wasn't on the team, the focus would not be on them as this mysterious art thief continues to cause trouble.

The Problem: It is problematic enough that the thief occasionally steals art and has recently sent small replicas of a piece he stole to key people that have been involved in the investigation. But now it looks like the thief has turned to murder as Emma stumbles upon the body of Rachel Bristol just minutes after being asked to meet her on Bristol Island in Boston Harbor. The deeper Emma and the team digs, the more it looks like Rachel may have gotten a little too close to the truth about the art thief, and the question becomes whether her death was an accident and had nothing to do with the thief, or whether the thief has moved on to homicide and the small cross-inscribed stone was a warning to the others. While Rachel may have been working with her step-daughter Maisie on a movie project, it looks like she had gone out on her own in an attempt to take the project in a different direction, a direction that included not only Emma and her grandfather, but also internationally renowned Irish artist Aoife O'Byrne, her long-time friend Father Bracken, and the British mystic Oliver Fairbairn. Rachel may have gotten in over her head, dragging her step-daughter as well as her ex-husband in with her. Now her murder is another piece of a decade long puzzle surrounding the elusive thief.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel that is #4 in a series of mystery/crime novels involving an art thief. In this particular book, the action is almost equally split between both Boston and Ireland, as Emma's grandfather currently resides in Ireland, and Emma and Colin's boss, Matt Yankowski, is currently in Ireland with his wife, who has somehow gotten involved with the investigation by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Naturally, because this is a mystery novel, there are a great deal of secrets being kept and traded, as well as a lot of guessing going on by everyone as to what is true and what is actually relevant to the case. And then there are the complications that come from Emma having a personal connection to the case as both an FBI agent and a member of the Sharpe family. It is a complicated situation only made even more complicated by Emma and Colin's engagement. And they aren't the only ones who may be hampered by their personal relationship. There is also a connection between artist Aoife O'Byrne and Father Bracken; the young Hollywood producer Maisie Bristol and her bodyguard Danny Palladino; and naturally, Matt Yankowski and his wife Lucy. Relationships are complicated enough without people being murdered around you. And then there is the inclusion of both Emma's and Colin's family. Wendell Sharpe may be retired, but his knowledge about the art thief is still valuable, making him an important figure in the book.

My Verdict: I'm normally not that into mystery/crime novels, especially if they are part of a series like this one is. While I enjoyed the book well enough, it isn't something I would pick out on my own or really make a point to finish in order to find out what happens. Even if I had the opportunity to follow Emma and Colin in a different book series I doubt I would take it. On the one hand, it just isn't for me. But on the other hand, I was slightly confused by the character of Emma. She's supposed to be the main character, the primary focus, but she seemed to be one of the least dynamic characters in the entire book. Maybe more of her has been showcased in the previous novels, but I just didn't get much from her in this book. I found myself more drawn to the stories behind Father Bracken, and the relationship between Matt and Lucy Yankowski. Emma just didn't interest me at all, but the events surrounding her family and the art crimes were still interesting. I would still recommend this series to those who enjoy serialized mysteries, but I doubt it will be something I follow through on.

Favorite Moment: Despite being engaged to her and naturally wanting to use his skills to protect her, there were many moments when Colin was able to trust Emma's ability as an FBI agent in her own right to protect herself when she went somewhere without him, or when she had to speak to a person of interest without his help. 

Favorite Character: Father Bracken is a man who came to the priesthood late in life after suffering an unimaginable tragedy. Despite his history and attraction to the beautiful Aoife O'Byrne he manages to stand by the vow he made while still being a comfort to her. He also made Irish whiskey in his former life, and that is always interesting to hear about someone who is now a priest. 

Recommended Reading: When it comes to mystery or crime fiction, I recommend The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith, which was found out to be the pen name of none other than J.K. Rowling after the book's publication. The second installment, The Silkworm, is also available in bookstores, but it haven't been able to read that one yet.

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