Whether the well-traveled and well-heeled couple who once owned Wynderly could have been trafficking in fakes is what Sterling must unravel from the secret rooms, hidden treasures, uncovered diaries, and convoluted trail of paperwork and provenance. As our sharp-witted heroine sifts through details doled out by the museum's curators, board members, and the town's local residents, she discovers that objects, unlike people, do not lie.
The Big Steal is a delightful mystery that enhances readers' antiques acumen and provides an easy guide to identifying the most popular styles and periods in an illustrated appendix.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 37.
- Review Date: 2009-05-04
- Reviewer: Staff
At the behest of an insurance company, Sterling Glass investigates the aftermath of a museum robbery in Jenkins's intriguing second mystery to feature the antiques expert (after 2005's Stealing with Style). Located in the foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, Wynderly, “a museum teetering on the edge of bankruptcy,” was once the baronial home of Mazie and Hoyt Wyndfield, a wealthy couple who died childless. At first awed by the vast number of antiques in every room, Sterling begins to doubt the authenticity of a collection of Tang horses and suspects other items are merely replicas. As she gets to know members of Wynderly's board of directors and discovers secret rooms and diaries, Sterling unravels long-hidden deceptions. Jenkins, an antiques appraiser, is also the author of a number of nonfiction titles, including The Book of American Traditions and From Storebought to Homemade. (July)
An elegant whodunit
I had an epiphany while reading Emyl Jenkins’ very engaging novel: When did mystery become synonymous with murder mystery? There is nary a dead body in The Big Steal—quite definitely a change from the many books that come under the umbrella heading mystery—but the book doesn’t suffer a bit from the lack of blood and gore. In fact, it was a welcome change to realize that no body was going to turn up anywhere.
Jenkins’ heroine, Sterling Glass (who first appeared in Stealing with Style) is an expert antique appraiser. She’s been hired by an insurance company to investigate a burglary claim filed by a manor house in rural Orange County, Virginia, just a few hours from Leemont, where she lives.
Sterling immediately senses trouble at Wynderly (think any eccentric big house designed by any eccentric American millionaire), which was built by Hoyt Wynfield and his New Orleans-born bride, Mazie, and filled with their priceless finds from all over the world. The estate is ridden with money problems, and the house has been closed to the public for years. The inexperienced curator on the case is less than helpful, and board meetings and board members keep calling Sterling away from her investigation into what was stolen and what the items were worth. Everyone has his or her own agenda, and while merely frustrated at first, Sterling becomes increasingly intrigued.
Secret rooms, hidden diaries, a mysterious handwritten obituary and lots of antiques figure in the plot. This is Nancy Drew for adults, and both Sterling and her creator are aware of that. The 50-something Sterling fantasizes about being one of “Hitchcock’s seductive heroines,” and happily she has two attractive men interested in her. But she’s on her own for most of the action—and she’s up to the challenge.
Jenkins, herself an appraiser, starts every chapter with information about an antique that will be featured in that chapter, and an illustrated guide to antiques is included at the end of the book. The lucky reader gets to be educated as well as entertained in this lively, sophisticated mystery. I’m glad Jenkins remembered what I had forgotten: in a true mystery, dead bodies are optional.
Joanne Collings writes from Washington, D.C.