A Chinese artifact sits at the center of an international theft and murder case in this debut thriller.
William Blackwell IV, the inheritor of an extensive fortune, owns a massive collection of Chinese art. He receives a mysterious letter demanding the return of a certain Empress Seal from the imperial Qing Dynasty to its rightful owner. Up to this point, William hadn’t even realized that he possessed the ruby-faced seal, but now that he does, he’s reluctant to give it up. He sends a colleague to contact Gerel Garnier, a Paris jewelry designer, about fashioning a replica of the seal. Gerel knows she should be excited by the prestige such a job will bring her, but she’s bothered by the secrecy surrounding it. Three months later, William is found murdered in a New York apartment, and Detective Tony Ryan is assigned to figure out what happened. Ryan’s investigation quickly leads him to Gerel, though she has since learned things about the seal that she isn’t quite ready to give up. Namely, that the seal’s origins are tied to the secret history of Gerel’s own family. As a homicide investigation unfolds in Europe and America, the true nature of the seal—both the replica and the original—reveals itself, lending some credence to the old curse that whoever possesses the prize will meet a tragic death. Cumiskey’s prose manages to evoke the grandeur and intrigue of the long-gone imperial court. “I think I owed it to myself to learn more of what really happened during that period,” says Gerel, recalling her visit to the Forbidden City, “a time when court jewelry designs of the East and West influenced one another, and different cultures came together—or clashed.” The novel jumps back and forth between two timelines—one before William’s death and one after—making for a clever means for dispensing information. In the basics of its plot, the book does not offer much that readers of this genre have not seen before. But the author is a capable storyteller, and her characters are distinct enough in their backgrounds and motivations to keep readers engaged to the end.
An entertaining contemporary art world mystery involving the treasures of imperial China.