Is a missing Russian icon a motive for murder?
California art historian Nora Barnes and her antiques dealer husband, Toby Sandler, venture forth from their home in Bodega Bay, famous as the spot Alfred Hitchcock’s birds attacked, to investigate the murder of Toby’s new business partner, Charlie Halloran, who’d recently moved his things to Toby’s store in Sonoma County after a breakup with his business and life partner. When Charlie’s body is found in a wrecked sailboat and a break-in is discovered at the store, Deputy Sheriff Dan Ellis, Nora and Toby’s friend, asks for their help. Nora soon identifies Charlie’s last purchases, a Russian icon and a set of storyboards from The Birds. Though neither is thought to be worth much, both have vanished. The seller got them from a former lover descended from a Russian family, early inhabitants of the area. When Toby finally finds the missing objects, Nora takes the icon to an expert in Wisconsin, where they discover evidence that it’s part of a valuable old triptych. Nora’s younger sister, Angie, who’s visiting, has been consulting Sophie Redmond, an "angel reader," in an attempt to make a major decision in her life. When Nora joins her at Sophie’s apartment, she sees another part of the triptych hanging on the wall. All these investigations turn up several interested parties, including the Russian Mafia, who may be willing to kill to get what they want.
Apart from its surprise ending, Nora and Toby’s second case (Murder in Lascaux, 2011) is most valuable for its information on icons, The Birds and early northern California history.