Review: Thief’s Mark by Carla Neggers

Thiefs Mark by Carla Neggers is the seventh Sharpe & Donovan novel, where a murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets, and a man's search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan.

Is it a rule that a couple who have met while solving murders and uncovering mysteries will undoubtedly have a “busman’s honeymoon”? It would seem so, especially in long-running series. The phrase is a twist on “busman’s holiday,” a “vacation or form of recreation that involves doing the same thing that one does at work.” The 13th Lord Peter Wimsey book, Busman's Honeymoon, which celebrates the union of detective Lord Peter and mystery writer Harriet Vane, has the couple discovering a dead body in the cellar. Moreover, the corpse is the former owner of their home Tallboys. More recently, J. D. Robb’s fourth In Death book, Rapture in Death, has NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas and Roarke, her billionaire groom, interrupted on their off-planet honeymoon by an inexplicable suicide.

Nothing so exotic for the Irish honeymoon of FBI agents Colin Donovan and Emma Sharpe. But on their last day, they get a disturbing call from Emma’s grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe—someone has broken into his Dublin home.

Carla Negger’s seventh Sharpe & Donovan mystery revisits strands from earlier books, although it stands alone nicely. Emma and Colin, after patiently interrogating the wily Wendell, decide to fly to England the following day instead of returning to their work in the United States. 

Emma would meet with her UK counterparts in art crimes, her area of expertise, and Colin would focus on … whatever Matt Yankowski, their FBI boss, wanted him to focus on. He and Yank would talk tomorrow. Colin had completed an undercover assignment before the wedding. Yank no doubt would be chewing on a new assignment.

The crux of their decision to stay is their sense that Wendell knows more than he’s sharing. As Emma says, “Best we stay on our toes when Granddad is in full obfuscation mode.” Particularly when the two suspect that Oliver York, international art thief-turned-FBI-informant is somehow involved in the break-in.

“We can see Oliver while we’re in England,” Emma said.

You can see Oliver.”

“You’d let me go on my own?” Teasing time. As if Colin “let” her do anything. He tightened his hold on her, drew her closer. “I don’t know, I think I could get into a submissive Mrs. Donovan.” She laughed. “Oh, you think so?”

His deep blue sparked with humor, and something else. “We can find out tonight.”

Playful honeymoon games take a back seat to murder, however, when the newlyweds arrive in Oliver’s quiet Cotswold village. There’s a dead body at the York farm, and Oliver is on the lam. The CID and the FBI suspect the present-day murder may have its roots in Oliver’s traumatic past.

As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.

One of the pleasures of Thief’s Mark is the leisurely way Neggers shifts from locale to locale and person to person, as when Wendell Sharpe tracks down Oliver York to a wet Irish cemetery. The two men have longstanding ties of friendship, expertise in the art market (both legal and not), and they operate, occasionally, on the fringes of the law. Wendell is determined to make sense of the disturbing happenings.

“You’re not going to do anything of the sort, Oliver said firmly. “You’re retired. You’re going back to Dublin and doing as Emma and Colin say.”

“Yeah, yeah, blah, blah,” Wendell sputtered, waving a hand in dismissal. “You get to a certain age and everyone thinks they know better and can order you around.”

“This is a police matter. It’s not about your age.”

He pointed a bony finger at Oliver. “Whatever we missed is haunting you, too, isn’t it?”

“A lot haunts me.”

“Yeah, I know. What you went through, no child should ever have to go through. Still, though. Ever wished you’d gotten into raising Cotswold sheep to cope instead of thieving?”

Prepare to be haunted as Colin and Emma—with assistance from Oliver, Wendell, and assorted villagers and law-enforcement types—solve the mystery of the dead man and his connection to the murder of Oliver’s parents. Thief’s Mark hits the spot, and for longtime readers of the Sharpe & Donovan series, there are plenty of threads left to be extracted and examined in future books.


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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.

Read all of Janet Webb's articles for Criminal Element!


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