|Frederick Ramsay: Artscape|
Poisoned Pen Press (Hardcover), ISBN 1-59058-122-98
Artscape, a silky-smooth police procedural concerning a seemingly impossible theft of an art collection worth more than a half billion dollars, introduces Ike Schwartz -- a small town sheriff with big time connections and a tragedy in his past.
Following the traumatic death of his wife, Schwartz walks away from his job in the CIA and returns to his hometown of Picketsville, Virginia. The town's chief claim to fame lies in the presence of Callend College, a private women's school whose reputation emanates from the school's supervision of the Dillon Art Collection. The collection, reportedly valued at more than half a billion dollars, lies in a theoretically safe and secure 1950's style underground bomb shelter complete with a modern high tech security system.
After winning election as the town sheriff, Schwartz tries to bury memories of his past in the mundane duties of upholding the law in the quiet community. In the midst of a routine day at the office, he takes a call from the college and learns of the theft of the entire Dillon collection. He rushes to the college where he runs into immediate opposition from the college president, Ruth Harris. Harris wishes to defer investigation of the case until other better qualified law enforcement agencies can arrive. Sparks immediately ignite between the academic liberal president and the pragmatic conservative sheriff, but Schwartz asserts his jurisdiction over the crime scene and takes charge of the investigation.
The highly recognizable nature of most of the stolen art works makes them almost impossible to fence, but it soon becomes clear that the thieves have other plans. The paintings will serve as ransom for their own return. Failure to pay a specified sum as instructed will result in the burning of selected pieces until the thieves receive the demanded amount. Schwartz calls upon his contacts in other law enforcement agencies and begins to piece together the details of a complex conspiracy involving a rogue CIA agent, a terrorist organization called the New Jihad and members of the Mafia crime syndicate. Faced with a situation already fraught with murder, kidnapping, and extortion, Schwartz and Armand Dillon, owner of the art collection, announce a bold plan designed to put the thieves on the defensive.
There is much to like in this highly entertaining story. Author Frederick Ramsay creates a complex and engaging plot complete with convincing characters, some fascinating repartee, and an interesting rural college town setting. From the intellectual duals between Schwartz and Harris to the emotionally charged and unexpected ending, Ramsay pushes all the right buttons to produce a super charged first novel. Artscape lays a solid foundation for a welcomed follow up of this cast of characters should Ramsay so choose.
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