A serial killer, a feisty trapeze artist and the glamorous milieu of 1930s Southern California: Seattle author Amanda Quick has returned to the fictitious resort town of Burning Cove for another page turner involving lifestyles of the rich and infamous. “Tightrope” is the third novel in this series, set in Hollywood’s Golden Age and full of period detail.
Quick, one of the pseudonyms of best-selling author Jayne Ann Krentz, sets an intriguing stage for her heroine, famous trapeze artist Amalie Vaughn, who is badly shaken by a too-close encounter with a serial killer, whom she daringly dispatches. No wonder Amalie decides to pursue a quiet life by investing all her money in the purchase of a charming seaside mansion/hotel at Hidden Beach. Unfortunately, she has not realized that the mansion, where a famous Hollywood psychic died by suicide, is said to be cursed.
Neither does Amalie expect a sudden further boost into notoriety when her first guest, Dr. Pickwell, a well-known scientist who invented an impressive robot, is killed by the robot in a demonstration. Now there are no guests at Amalie’s hotel, but there is an unwelcome police presence, as well as a mysterious investigator: Matthias Jones, who just might have underworld connections. Charismatic and quick-witted, Matthias also has the uncanny ability to detect when someone is lying. Over the course of his investigations, he soon realizes that the robot — basically a clockwork toy full of motors and wiring — is much too primitive to have turned on its inventor and shot him dead. So who did?
Amalie herself comes under suspicion, while investigators ponder her close association with two deaths. Two enemies from her past blame her for their failures and are plotting revenge. And someone breaks into her hotel in the hopes of investigating the dead scientist’s room, possibly in pursuit of his highly coveted Ares cipher machine. Secretly observing the housebreaker is a mysterious “Mr. Smith,” who holds a grudge since being cast aside after spying for a federal intelligence agency in the Great War.
The search is on for the cipher machine, which could compromise national security if it fell into the wrong hands. After the break-in, Amalie and her aunt clearly need security at their hotel, and Matthias plans to move in to provide it. “I can see the advertising slogan now,” groans Amalie. “‘Welcome to Hidden Beach Inn. The First Choice of Classy Mobsters’.” Not surprisingly, the closer Amalie and Matthias get to the mystery and to each other, the more danger they encounter.
“A mysterious tire blowout last night and a grenade blast today,” quips Amalie to Matthias. “The next time we go on a date I’m going to bring my own gun.”
Zippy dialogue is a Krentz trademark, and so is her frequent interconnection of characters in her enormous oeuvre (more than 50 New York Times best-sellers, and 35 million copies in print). Longtime readers will not be surprised to discover that Matthias Jones is a descendant of Sylvester Jones, a 17th-century alchemist and Krentz creation whose psychic gifts have been passed down through generations of her characters.
Witty, sexy and well-plotted, this Quick book is a quick fun read, highly entertaining for readers of romantic suspense.
“Tightrope” by Amanda Quick, Berkley Hardcover, 320 pp., $27 (available May 7)
Jayne Ann Krentz will appear at 11 a.m. Tuesday, May 7, at Page 2 Books, 457 S.W. 152nd St., Burien, free, 206-248-7248, page2books.indielite.org