This novel of suspense from Neggers (Cold River) uneasily combines Maine artists, Irish saints, Viking artifacts, convent life, and the FBI. Puzzled by a mysterious painting that may hold clues to the whereabouts of an original Rembrandt, art conservationist Sister Joan Mary Fabriani invites FBI special agent Emma Sharpe, a former novice at the Sisters of the Joyful Heart convent, to the tiny religious order on the Maine coast to investigate. When Sister Joan is murdered and the painting disappears, Emma draws on her family's background in art investigation to find the cause. The search leads her to Ireland, where her grandfather, the founder of Sharpe Fine Art Recovery, is attacked. Colin Donovan, an FBI undercover agent with local roots, is put on the case as well, and sexual sparks soon fly. Neggers shows her skill in the feisty couple's romantic skirmishes, but the charm of their byplay can't compensate for the far-fetched backstory, chunks of unnecessary filler, and predictable denouement. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
"A fast-paced, action-packed tale that will appeal to fans of Lisa Jackson and Lisa Gardner."
"Readers will be turning the pages so fast their fingers will burn.... A winner!"
-Susan Elizabeth Phillips on Betrayals
"Brimming with Neggers's usual flair for creating likeable, believable characters.... She delivers a colorful, well-spun story..."
-Publishers Weekly on The Carriage House
"[Carla Neggers's] books have that magical ingredient too-the ability to pick me up and transport me into another world for a few hours...a few days..."
-M. J. Rose, international bestselling author of The Hypnotist
"Well-drawn characters, complex plotting and plenty of wry humor are the hallmarks of Neggers' books. Jo and Elijah are very well matched, and readers will root for their romance."
-RT Book Reviews on Cold Pursuit
"Showcases the award-winning Ms. Neggers' unique blend of quirky humor, sizzling romance and engrossing suspense, which combine to produce irresistibly entertaining novels."
-RT Book Reviews on Finding You
"A haunting romantic story." -Bookreporter on The Widow
"Worth the wait. Well plotted, with Neggers' trademark witty dialogue and crackling sexual tension, this is a keeper."
-RT Book Reviews on The Whisper
"Nobody does romantic suspense better than Carla Neggers. The Whisper is big, bold and stunningly effective. Evidence of a writer at the absolute top of her game still climbing higher."
-Providence Journal on The Whisper
FBI agent Emma Sharpe, an art expert from a family of art experts, is called to view a painting at a convent on the Maine coast, the request coming from a nun with connections to Emma's past. When the nun is murdered and the painting mysteriously disappears, enter deep undercover FBI agent Colin Donovan, who's been pointed in Emma's direction by her concerned boss and a certain interfering priest. The attraction that Emma and Colin feel for each other is neither smart nor convenient as their search for the killer takes them to Ireland for answers that seem to lead to more questions. VERDICT With a great plot and excellent character development, Neggers's (Cold Dawn) latest thriller, the first in a new series, is a fast-paced, action-packed tale of romantic suspense that will appeal to fans of Lisa Jackson and Lisa Gardner.—Debbie Haupt, St. Charles City/Cty. P.L., MO
Read an Excerpt
Emma Sharpe steeled herself against the sights and sounds of her past and kept up with the nervous woman rushing ahead of her in the dense southern Maine fog. They came to a tall iron fence, a folk-art granite statue of Saint Francis of Assisi glistening with drizzle among purple coneflowers and cheerful golden daylilies by the gate.
The little bird perched on Saint Francis's shoulder still had a couple of missing tail feathers.
Sister Joan Mary Fabriani stopped at the gate. On the other side was the "tower," the private work space where the Sisters of the Joyful Heart performed their restoration and conservation work. In violation of convent protocol, Sister Joan had escorted Emma onto the convent grounds without having her first stop at the motherhouse to register as a visitor.
And a visitor she was, in boot-cut jeans, a brown leather jacket, Frye boots and a Smith & Wesson 442 strapped to her left calf.
"The gate's locked," Sister Joan said, turning to Emma. "I have to get the key."
"I'll go with you."
"No. Wait here, please." The older woman, who'd spent the past thirty years as a member of her order, frowned slightly at the gate, which crossed the meandering stone walk two hundred yards from the main gate at the convent's entrance. "I thought I left it unlocked. It doesn't matter. I'll only be a few minutes."
"You're preoccupied, Sister," Emma said. "I should go with you."
"The shortest route to the tower is through an area restricted to members of our community here."
"The meditation garden. I remember."
"Yes. Of course you do."
"No one will be there at this hour. The sisters are busy with their daily work."
"I'm in no danger, Emma." Sister Joan smiled, her doe-brown eyes and wide, round face helping to soften her sometimes too-frank demeanor. "It's all right if I call you Emma, isn't it? Or should I call you Agent Sharpe?"
Emma noted an almost imperceptible bite in Sister Joan's voice. "Emma's fine."
With a broad hand, Sister Joan brushed a mosquito off the wide, stretchy black headband holding back her graying dark hair. Instead of the traditional nun's habit, the Sisters of the Joyful Heart wore plain clothes; in Sister Joan's case a dark gray hand-knitted sweater and calf-length skirt, black tights and sturdy black leather walking shoes. The simple silver profession cross hanging from her neck and the gold band on her left ring finger were the only external indications that she was a Roman Catholic nun.
She looked pained. "I've already broken enough rules by having you here without telling anyone."
Sister Joan hadn't given any details when she'd called Emma in Boston early that morning and asked her to make the two-hour drive north to the convent, located on a small peninsula on a beautiful, quiet stretch of rock-bound Maine coast.
"At least give me an idea of what you want to talk to me about," Emma said.
Sister Joan hesitated. "I'd like to get your opinion on a painting."
As if there could be any other reason. "Do you suspect it's stolen?"
"Let me get the key and show you. It'll be easier than trying to explain." Sister Joan stepped off the walk onto the lush, wet grass, still very green late in the season, and looked back at Emma. "I want to thank you for not bringing a weapon onto the grounds."
Emma made no comment about the .38 tucked under the hem of her jeans. She'd left her nine-millimeter Sig Sauer locked in its case in her car outside the convent's main gate but had never considered going completely unarmed.
Without waiting for a response, Sister Joan followed the fence into a half dozen mature evergreens. The evergreens would open into a beautiful garden Mother Superior Sarah Jane Linden, the foundress of the Sisters of the Joyful Heart, had started herself more than sixty years ago in a clearing on a rocky ledge above a horseshoe-shaped cove. The sisters had added to it over the years Emma herself had planted a pear treebut the design remained essentially the one Mother Linden, who'd died almost twenty years ago, had envisioned.
As she lost sight of Sister Joan in the fog and trees, Emma stayed close to the tall gate. Even the breeze drifting through the evergreens and the taste of the salt in the damp air called up the longings of the woman she'd beenthe possibilities of the woman she'd never become.
She pushed them aside and concentrated on the present. The morning fog, rain and wind would have attracted passing boats into the protected cove, one of the well-known "hurricane holes" on the Maine coast.
Watching guys on the boats when she was supposed to be in deep reflection and contemplation had been an early clue she wasn't cut out to be a nun.
Sister Joan, honest and straightforward to a fault, had always known. "You're an art detective, Emma. You're a Sharpe. Be who you are."
Emma touched a fingertip to a raindrop on Saint Francis's shoulder. The statue was the work of Mother Linden, an accomplished artist who'd have considered the absent tail feathers part of its charm as it aged.
The Sisters of the Joyful Heart was a tiny religious order, independently funded and self-sufficient. The twenty or so sisters grew their own fruits and vegetables and baked their own bread, but they also ran a shop and studio in the nearby village of Heron's CoveEmma's hometownand were skilled in art restoration, conservation and education. During the summer and early fall, the convent held retreats for art educators and conservators, as well as people who just wanted to learn how to protect family treasures. Various sisters were dispatched to Catholic schools throughout the region as art teachers. Hope, joy and love were central to their work and to their identity as women and religious sisters.
All well and good, Emma thought, but hope, joy and love hadn't prompted Sister Joan's call early that morning. Fear had.
"It's a personal favor," she had told Emma. "It's not FBI business. Please come alone."
Emma felt the cold mist gather on her hair, which she wore long now, and sighed at Saint Francis, the beloved early-thirteenth-century friar who had given up his wealth to follow a life of poverty. "What do you think, my friend?" She peered through the gate and made out a corner of the stone tower in the gray. "I know."
Sister Joan was afraid, and she was in trouble.