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Saint's Gate by Carla Neggers

Saint's Gate is the first in a series by Carla Neggers that will star an ex-nun turned FBI agent and her deep cover FBI operative lover, which is really only a minor spoiler because let's face it, savvy readers will know right from the outset that these two will hook up by novel's end.  I have a hard and fast rule that when an author starts the first lines of the first chapter with a main character's first and last names, as Neggers does with this one, I ditch the book because it always strikes me as a lazy way to start a story and probably a sign of mediocre writing. However, something about the story of Saint's Gate grabbed me.  Neggers sets up an intriguing mystery with an unusual heroine at the center of the story.  The art history and iconography elements add interest to what could be a run of the mill procedural FBI caper.

FBI special agent Emma Sharpe works on an elite team that tracks dangerous, high end art thieves who are often well funded.  Out of the blue Sharpe is called home to Maine by Sister Joan, a member of the Sisters of the Joyful Heart, a convent whose mission is art conservation, restoration and education.  It is where Sharpe was once a novice before she left to work a year for her family's art recovery and authentication firm after which she joined the FBI.  Sharpe's specialization in art recovery and related crimes as well as her history with the convent make her the person to whom Sister Joan turns for help when a certain piece of art comes to the convent.  But before the sister can tell Sharpe what concerns her, she's murdered and the artwork disappears.

Enter FBI deep cover operative Colin Donovan, fresh off a dangerous assignment and taking some much needed downtime in his native Maine; Donovan is enlisted by his friend, Father Bracken, the local priest serving the convent, to look into the nun's murder and by Sharpe's supervisor to keep eye on her.  Before long Sharpe realizes that both the stolen art and Sister Joan's murder may be related to another piece of artwork depicting a saint that was Sharpe's favorite as a child.  But that piece is now missing from her family's firm's attic vault.  What does it all mean?  How is it connected to her family?  And what story do the missing artworks tell that someone would kill to keep hidden?

Despite some plot developments verging on the implausible, the book is an engaging, easy, and suspenseful read.  The story is as hard to put down for the developing romance as it is for the mystery.  You can check this book out the next time you visit the library.

--Reviewed by Ms. Angie


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