When a Russian ÇmigrÇ spots a treasure from the Hermitage storerooms on display in a London art gallery, he complains to lawyer Pip Spencer, then dies shortly thereafter on steep subway steps. Murder? With his interest piqued, Pip makes inquiries of the gallery owner, an auction house historian, and a bureaucrat in Moscow's Cultural Department, where his queries reach the ears of Colonel Vassily Krasin, who, with his silent strong-arm, ex-GRU man Chibatar, sets up an elaborate coverup, framing pretty interpreter Katya. As the bodies Katya supposedly killed pile up and documents on her smuggling activities surface, the police of two countries search for her, while, at Krasin's instructions, she is trying to deliver a package—a Raphael triptych—to an English accomplice of his. Desperate, Katya turns to Pip for help, and the two of them unravel Krasin's deceptions, all aimed at making him a very wealthy defector with a new identity. Tricky plotting, with the unwitting Katya drawn more and more deeply into the violent machinations of her amoral lover Krasin. Routine but plausible art-world palaver, and about average derring- do from second-novelist Skeggs (The Estuary Pilgrim, 1990).
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