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THE ORKNEY SCROLL
by Lyn Hamilton
Berkley, April 2006
272 pages
$22.95
ISBN: 0425208001


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

When her richest client, Blair Baldwin, asks Toronto antiques dealer Lara McClintoch to give her opinion on the authenticity of a very expensive writing cabinet, he gives her almost no time to examine the piece. Her provisional opinion is that the cabinet could very well be the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, an important furniture designer of the Arts and Crafts movement.

If it were the genuine article, the cabinet would be worth the $1.5 million the dealer's asking for it, but without more time to research, she can't be sure. Though Lara asks her client to delay his purchase, Baldwin impulsively decides to pay the exorbitant price on the spot in order to avoid a bidding war with a rival collector.

Shortly thereafter, Baldwin throws a party to celebrate his acquisition and Lara notices that a lock on the cabinet's drawer is of far more modern manufacture than anything that Mackintosh could have used. It seems that she was wrong in her original assessment and that Baldwin has been duped into buying an obvious forgery.

Worse, in the presence of his guests, the new owner takes an axe to the furniture and destroys it. When the dealer who sold the cabinet to Baldwin is found in the cellar of his shop with his head bashed in by the very same axe, it's only natural that the police should suspect him of the murder.

Lara feels partially responsible for what's happened, since it was her opinion that set these events in motion. The more she obsesses over the affair, the more convinced she becomes that there were two cabinets, the genuine article she saw in the store and a very good copy that was somehow substituted for the original and ended up in Baldwin's home.

Moreover, she is convinced that Baldwin would not have resorted to murder, no matter how angry he became when he discovered the fraud. She traces the invoices for the cabinet back to its purchase in Glasgow and decides to travel to Scotland to try to make sense of the whole affair. Once in Glasgow, she happens to meet a wealthy couple who invite her to their home on the Orkney Islands.

It is in the Orkneys, idyllic islands off the northeast coast of Scotland, that this book comes alive. The affability and kindness of the Orkney residents provoke some of the funniest comments about culture shock I've ever read. As this extremely complicated plot unfolds, the reader is treated to tours of Viking burials sites, the retelling of ancient Norse legends and some lessons about the strategic importance of these little-known islands during World War II. If that's not enough, Hamilton throws in details on antiques forgery, money laundering and an ancient scroll that's really a treasure map.

Lyn Hamilton's wonderful Lara McClintoch series is one of my favorites, although it may be the most expensive bunch of mystery books I've ever read. Not because of their cover price, mind you, but because Hamilton's gift for describing exotic locales is such that her books leave me scouring the internet for cheap fares to the destinations she writes about. THE ORKNEY SCROLL is one of her best books to date, and already my mailbox is swelling with travel brochures from the isles.

If you're feeling spring fever closing in, drop in at your local bookshop and pick up a copy of THE ORKNEY SCROLL. Before you know it, you'll be transported to one of the nicest places in Scotland in the company of a wry and witty traveling companion who turns every trip into an edge-of-your-seat adventure.

Reviewed by Carroll Johnson, May 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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