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by April Henry

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-06-019204-6
Publisher: HarperCollins

Claire Montrose is slowly withering on the vine of the Oregon Motor Vehicle Division’s Custom Plate Department when her reclusive great-aunt Cady, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years, dies and leaves her entire estate to Claire. The estate’s not much—mostly a cabin-sized pile of souvenirs from Cady’s days in the WAC in war-torn Germany—but one painting of a young woman takes Claire’s eye. And so, over the arched eyebrows of her risk-aversive beau Evan Elliott (whose every cell seems perfectly attuned to his job as an insurance adjuster), she decides to wangle a week off from the task of separating allowable vanity-plate requests (“RESQ ME”) from the other kind (“6ULDV8”), overcome her own fears of never having been farther east than the Idaho border, and take her prize to get appraised in the Big Apple. En route to Christie’s and Sotheby’s, she stops in instead at the more modest Avery’s auction house and runs into appraiser Troy Nowell, whose behavior is so questionable—he assures her the painting is a forged Vermeer, then invites her to dinner at a posh restaurant—that even this country mouse becomes suspicious, as she does of Dante Bonner, the painter who sweet-talks her as she’s eying real Vermeers at the Metropolitan Museum. Even back in Portland, where she’s flown only a step ahead of the thief who’s ransacked her hotel room, every male in the cast is acting like a potential art thief, setting up a finale that reads like a corn-fed version of Audrey Hepburn’s Charade. Henry’s first is a soothing dose for readers as ingenuous as her heroine. Even the ubiquitous license-plate puns (“H2OUUP2,” “FX108”) are translated in a kindly appendix.