Book Review: Tightrope by Amanda Quick
By Susan AmperMay 20, 2019
Tightrope by Amanda Quick follows an unconventional woman and a man shrouded in mystery who walk a tightrope of desire as they race against a killer to find a top-secret invention.
Amalie Vaughn hears the voice in her nightmares.
“Fly for me Princess,” the killer said. “If you fly, I’ll let you live.”
He was lying.
Amalie Vaughn knew that death awaited her at the top of the trapeze ladder. She had no choice but to climb to the narrow platform. The long wire necklace strung with glittering black glass beads was a garrote around her throat. The Death Catcher used it as a chain to control her.
“I watched you fly tonight at the evening performance,” the Death Catcher said. “You were so pretty in your costume. It was all I could to wait until now.”
But along with excellent reflexes and balance, Amalie has what her father called “flyer’s intuition.” And she tricks the killer into stepping onto the platform with her. Realizing his precarious position, the killer rails at her, “You crazy bitch.”
“I fly for a living and I do it without a net,” she said. “Of course I’m crazy.”
But Amalie is not crazy enough to fly again after her near murder. She is the last of the famed trapeze artists The Fabulous Flying Vaughns and figures its safer to turn to a new venture.
It’s the late 1930s. The effects of the Depression linger, and war is on the horizon. Movie stars, though, are still movie stars, and Amalie thinks she might be able to cater to them. Along with her Aunt Hazel, Amalie buys a large villa on Ocean Lane in Burning Cove that makes her think, “It had been made to order for a Hollywood movie.” Only she wasn’t counting on it being a horror movie.
Tightrope is Amanda Quick’s 3rd novel set in Burning Cove. Amalie has rechristened the hotel as “The Hidden Beach.” After purchasing the house, Amalie learns that Madam Zolanda, psychic to the stars, committed suicide on the premises and starts to feel the inn may well stay hidden.
However, a paying guest arrives. Dr. Norman Pickwell promises to show a packed audience that his robot invention has artificial intelligence and can obey simple commands. The crème de la crème of Burning Cove society is in the audience to witness the event. Things don’t go according to plan, and it appears Dr. Pickwell has been murdered by his own robot. Now, Amalie has two dead bodies to her hotel’s credit.
Before she can even think what her next step will be, mysterious Matthias Jones comes to the hotel claiming to be a friend of mobbed-up Luther Pell, owner of the best hotel in town, and suggests that Amalie and her aunt should consider him “something” of a “private investigator.” He tells Amalie that Dr. Pickwell had invented a cipher machine called Ares, which I’m sure is not so coincidentally named after the Greek god of war. The device is also likened to the Enigma machine of Bletchley Park fame.
The meaning seems clear. War is coming, and all hell will break loose if the machine is not found. Matthias Jones feels it would be best if he stayed at the hotel to aid in the investigation. As long as he is a paying guest, it’s okay by Amalie.
The work of a hotel keeper, though, is never done. And now arrives a genuine movie star, Vincent Hyde, “the legendary star of a string of horror movies.” But as negative publicity continues to surround Amalie’s hotel, she feels serious pressure.
The latest headline: “THE CURSE OF MADAM ZOLANDA? MANSION WHERE FAMOUS PSYCHIC DIED UNDER MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES CLAIMS ANOTHER VICTIM.”
But Vincent Hyde is on the spot to assure her.
“Take it from me, almost any kind of publicity is better than no publicity.”
Something in his tone gave her pause.
“Almost any kind? She repeated.
“There is very little in the way of publicity that can kill a Hollywood career, Miss Vaughn. Most gossip simply adds fuel to the fire. But there are only one or two lines that cannot be crossed, not if one hopes to survive the industry.”
“Only one or two?
“Indeed.” Vincent winked. “And I am happy to tell you that trivial things such as bizarre murders and psychic’s curse from beyond the grave are not on that very short list.”
While the search for the cipher machine continues in earnest, Amalie and her aunt and staff come up with a way to capitalize on their hotel’s notoriety. They will serve afternoon tea for a small charge and take guests to the now-famous rooms of the dead and even some of the undead. Madam Zolanda and Dr. Pickwell are a sure bet, but visitors also get a peek at the real-life investigator Matthias Jones’s room as well as Vincent Hyde’s, who just happens to be on hand to sign autographs after tea.
The plotting, though interesting, is not particularly original. If Amanda Quick could not come up with something clever for the cipher machine, she might have been better off with a different MacGuffin. Though set in the 1930s and suggesting Hollywood glamour, there’s nary a hint of it—no shiny Bakelite floors, gold lame’ gowns, platinum blondes, or silver cigarette cases. The tale could have been set at any time.
That said, Quick’s heroine and hero are genuine fun. Amalie and Matthias share some amusing banter, get into some interesting scrapes, and make this entry into the series a fun read.