Sunday, April 17, 2016
Review: A Fool & His Monet by Sandra Orchard
A Fool & His Monet (A Serena Jones Mystery #1)
By: Sandra Orchard
Rookie FBI agent Serena Jones of the Art Crime Team, fresh off her first successful undercover operation, returns to St. Louis eager to prove to herself -- and her mother -- that she's capable of doing a dangerous job. Her passion for fighting Art Crime is born from not only her love of art but her hope that her work might help her discover who murdered her grandfather years earlier during the theft of his prized Blacklock landscape. When Zoe, her best friend and head of security at a local museum, calls to report the loss of two paintings -- one a priceless Monet -- she leaps at the chance to further prove her professional prowess on her home turf. But a relatively straightforward theft soon reveals itself to be anything but, drawing Serena into a web of conspiracy and cover-up that threatens not just the recovery of the paintings, but her very life.
Several years ago, USA Network aired the pilot of a television show called White Collar, a procedural centered around the unlikely partnership between Neal, an accomplished thief and art connoisseur, and Peter, a by-the-book FBI agent on Neal's trail. It was their adventures in the high-stakes world of art theft that captivated my imagination and immediately piqued my interest in this title. This fun and frothy set up brings a unique spin to the novel's chick-lit premise, coloring Serena's world with a welcome dose of wealthy intrigue and high-stakes suspense.
Orchard peppers Serena's world with a colorful, quirky family and not one but two would-be suitors. Her parents are British ex-pats, and her aunt a thrill-seeking senior fond of conspiracy theories and rumored gangsters. Tanner Calhoun, her former field training agent, is by-the-books, dedicated bachelor #1...although this guy seems to be actually good at his job, so I don't know what Serena's aptitude says about his training skills. Bachelor #2 is Nate Butler, superintendent of her apartment building, tea connoisseur, and classic movie aficionado. I ask you, what's not to love? Serena is, of course, hopeless in the romance department -- though not for lack of trying (or her mother's lack of praying) regarding the subject -- and Orchard does a creditable job setting up both romantic possibilities and not tipping her hand toward who she views as Serena's possible end game.
I have no issue suspending disbelief when it comes to my chick-lit reads and happily do so readily when losing myself in the pages of a favorite Meg Cabot or Jill Mansell. But a general rule of thumb in the genre is that if a woman is hopeless when it comes to her love life, she's usually (somewhat) competent when it comes to her career. And on the latter score, Serena falls incredibly short. I realize television and films are not the most accurate metric by which to grade a job's difficulty level, but common sense screams that there is no alternate universe in which Serena would have graduated from Quantico, empowered with a badge and a gun.
Serena pulls her work-issued sidearm under stress four times (at least) in this book, and three of those times are for no apparent, verifiable threat (chapters 1, 9, and 23). Honestly, anything over ONCE doesn't get a pass in my book when there are so many top-notch romantic suspense authors out there who color their stories with realism. Given the hysteria and stress with which Serena so often approaches life-or-death situations, it's frustrating to see a female lead in a position of responsibility dumbed-down to such an extent, chick-lit trappings of her world notwithstanding. When your heroine's job requires a gun, there's no excuse for hysterical sloppiness on the job -- that's not a personality quirk, that's a liability. And when she doesn't know how to responsibly use her sidearm -- or her common sense (for someone so paranoid the idea that she would travel to a shady part of town late at night is ludicrous) -- it detracts from what is otherwise an engaging light mystery.
Despite my issues with Serena's immaturity, I really liked the premise of this series and plan to read the sequel, Another Day, Another Dali, when it releases this fall (mainly because I am firmly #TeamNate and want to see how that plays out). The art theft premise adds color to the storyline and brings a high-gloss shine to the standard mystery formula. I hope that future installments of the series see Serena grow and mature into the responsibilities her job (and frankly, her age) requires. One can have a fun and frothy chick lit-flavored suspense novel without a heroine who is often gratingly incompetent in her professional life. But, one could do far worse, and Orchard's colorful premise and quirky supporting cast make for an engaging few hours of cozy escapism.
About the book:
Sketchy politics and a palette of lies can't stop Serena Jones from exposing the mastermind behind the daring theft of a priceless work of art.
Serena Jones has a passion for recovering lost and stolen art -- one that's surpassed only be her zeal to uncover the truth about who murdered her grandfather. She's joined the FBI Art Crime Team with the secret hope that one of her cases will lead to his killer. Now, despite her mother's pleas to do something safer -- like get married -- Serena's determined to catch thieves and black market traders.
When a local museum discovers an irreplaceable Monet missing, Serena leaps into action -- and a whole heap of trouble.