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Sleuth Bounces Back to Break Up Deadly Art Fraud Ring

"Cold Heart" (Random House, 332 pages, $24.95), the third Lorraine Page mystery by Lynda La Plante (creator of the miniseries "Prime Suspect"), begins on a note of uncharacteristic optimism. In previous outings, the flinty Lorraine, a former cop who was kicked off the force for shooting an innocent teenager while drunk on the job, dragged herself out of the gutter, joined AA, founded Page Investigations and cracked a case that earned her a million dollar bonus (which she split with her partners Rosie and Bill Rooney).

Her demons ostensibly under control, the new novel finds Lorraine on a spending spree: buying a Venice Beach condominium (just where I'd move if I'd made a bundle), a face lift, a Cherokee, a secondhand Mercedes, a designer wardrobe and a comfortable office on West Pico Boulevard. Still, she wonders if "the old Lorraine still lurked, ready to pull the new one down."

Lacking assistants Rosie and Bill have married and are on a prolonged European honeymoon Lorraine hires Rob Decker, a casting cartier love ring for men replica director's vision of a gay sidekick: tanned, blond, good looking, complete with gun license, Cartier watch and a connection at a local nursery to get nice plants.

No sooner has Decker fixed up her office than Harry Nathan, a sleazy film producer and renowned art collector, is shot and Lorraine gets a call from his ditsy, pregnant third wife, Cindy, who is about to be arrested. Cindy was overheard threatening Harry, she had dreamed she'd cartier replica marriage ring just pulled the trigger when she heard shots, and her gun was the murder weapon.

"Please tell me I didn't do it," she begs Lorraine.

Undeterred by threats to her life, Lorraine exposes enough loose ends to weave a macrame planter. Harry has cartier marriage ring replica left behind a cache of incriminating pornographic videos, two ambitious ex wives Kendall, the owner of a Beverly Hills gallery, and sculptress Sonja Sorrenson and best friend Raymond Vallance, a malevolent matinee idol (George Hamilton, call your agent). uncovers a Byzantine art fraud, attracts the attention of a too good to be true police chief, and walks her dog. So spellbinding is the plainly written novel that the reader won't notice the plot holes. It's difficult to imagine the two dimensional Harry inspiring the level of hatred and passion necessary for the many violent plot twists. And harder to believe a coincidental cartier copy love ring rose gold subplot involving Lorraine's past. Set in England and as delicately plotted as a Bach invention, it explores the intertwined lives of three characters who could each be a poster child for psychotherapy. As a small child, Francine was scolded by her mother and sent to her room, an event that saved her life as her mother was then murdered by a stranger. The child found the body and didn't speak for the next nine months, a trauma that pales next to the subsequent efforts of her overprotective new stepmother.

It's almost inevitable that she would grow up to attract the emotionally scarred artist Teddy. His mother was so out of touch she didn't even realize she was pregnant, and the child grew up without hugs, cuddles or attention.

Completing the neurotic trio is Harriet, a fading beauty whose 15 minutes of fame came in 1966 when she posed for a famous painter. Harriet marries a rich but remote insurance executive, but seeking sexual excitement, she scours the classifieds for handymen, preferably a "young, strong, vigorous, insatiable working man, without much in the way of brains."

As the vividly drawn characters are slowly but utterly logically drawn into each other's orbits, the suspense envelopes the reader like a chilling fog.

Once again, Hart transports the reader to a picturesque locale San Antonio, where Henrie has come to search for Iris Chavez, the missing granddaughter of one of Henrie's oldest friends. She finds Iris' car parked outside her apartment, but the girl is gone and her apartment ransacked. Ironically, her computer is still there, along with a valuable oil painting. Henrie shrewdly deduces someone was looking for a specific item that could fit in an attache case.

The trail leads to the Tesoros Gallery, where until her abrupt disappearance, Iris worked and dated Rick, the owner's grandson. The gallery, located on the River Walk ("modern San Antonio's heart, attracting well over a million visitors a year"), is filled with precious Mexican arts and crafts: Talavera tiles, ornate silver, carved wooden animals from Oaxaca.

The gallery, founded almost 40 years ago by matriarch Maria Elena Garza, is run by her quarrelsome family, which is busy preparing for the yearly auction attended by the world's most avid collectors.

While the Garza family is no more dysfunctional than that portrayed in your average "Dynasty" rerun, the behind the scenes gallery details are intriguing and the plot absorbing enough to keep the reader guessing. Maria Elena and Henrie make a formidable team, and if the book lacks the soul of some of Henrie's earlier outings, it's still fun.
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