Amanda Quick’s slick, fun mystery series, set in the murder-laden town of Burning Cove in1930s California continues with Tightrope, a story about a former trapeze artist and the hired muscle who soon becomes the only man she can trust.
When the book opens, second-generation trapeze artist Amalie Vaughn, the Flying Princess of the Ramsey Circus, is being forced by Marcus Harding, a rigger and secretly a serial killer called the Death Catcher, to climb to her demise. Amalie is the only to know his true identity, so Marcus is planning to eliminate her by staging a “tragic accident.” But a struggle on the trapeze results in Marcus’ death instead – and the only witnesses are Amalie and the giggling, shadowed accomplice to Marcus’ murders.
Months later, Amalie and her aunt Hazel have left the circus to run The Hidden Beach Inn in the fashionable Hollywood suburb of Burning Cove. Their only guest so far is a doctor named Norman Pickwell, who has sold out the Palace Theater with a demonstration of his robot named Futuro. Hazel and Amalie are in attendance at the show when he’s shot to death in the middle of the demonstration by his own creation, leaving Hazel and Amalie to deal with the possible ruination of their business right out of the gate due to the resulting scandal. It’s bad enough that Amelie bought the inn from Madame Zolanda, a psychic who predicted her own death on stage and then turned up dead; with Pickwell’s death, the rumor starts to circulate that the Inn is cursed. But sharp-eyed Amalie doesn’t believe in superstition or that the death of the professor was a tragic accident – and it turns out she isn’t alone.
Hired muscle and some-time PI Matthias Jones – connected to Luther Pell, owner of Burning Cove’s best nightclub and controller of half the town – arrives and demands to see Pickwell’s room. There’s nothing amiss there, but Matthias thinks that the crime might be connected to the disappearance of Pickwell’s hard luck assistant, Charlie Hubbard, who does indeed hold many of the clues to Pickwell’s death. After an unsuccessful attempt on Amalie’s life lands Hazel in the hospital, Matthias moves into the Hidden Beach to protect Hazel and Amalie, and in spite of themselves Amalie and Matthias begin to get closer.
The stakes get higher, and the danger more violent and closer to home. The ultimate question looms – was Pickwell a fraud, his robot merely a man in a suit, or was he connected to something much more dangerous, much more daring, than anyone dares to consider?
Quick has become adept at these retro noir-ish mysteries. While Tightrope doesn’t quite have the punch of the first story in the series, it’s a creative, intriguing and deft tale and truly makes for an excellent beach read.
Amalie is a delightful, gutsy and tough heroine, and I loved her romance with Matthias, another of the author’s scarred but quick-witted heroes. The two of them are tough and have been around the block but are fearless when teamed.
Minor characters – like Hazel – are a degree less interesting, though I definitely want a book about gutsy Willa Pratt, Marcus’ ex, who turns up to ask Amalie for a job and becomes part of the family. On the downside though, the mystery was only decent, though it did provide some truly unexpected twist. It also required Mathias and Amalie to make contact with my still-favorite duo from the first book, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, crime beat reporter Irene and spa owner/ex-magician Oliver, now married, and it’s wonderful to see them again. The only character who pops up from the second book is the dead Madame Zolanda, whose murder becomes a way for Amalie to make a little extra money.
Tightrope is a perfectly good little mystery – not outstanding in Quick’s canon, but a fun story that entertains.
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