Sometimes even the most carefully conceived burglary can take an unexpected turn. Florence Palmer has her eye on concert violinist Aaron Levy's priceless violin. Unfortunately, she finds it's already been stolen. Her surprise doubles when the virtuoso she'd planned to burgle offers to hire her to help him steal it back. But they're not the only ones looking for the missing violin. When Flo inadvertently becomes the prime suspect in a case of murder, she and Aaron need to clear her name. Will they find the real killer and get the violin back to its rightful owner without anyone else, especially themselves, being killed?
I was going to use my “one phone call” (assuming a person really gets one and that’s not just something they say in the movies) to call Aaron, but I didn’t have to bother. Almost as soon as I arrived at the police station, Aaron, who obviously had been watching developments and following the police car I was in, walked in and inquired how I might be released. Given the relatively minor nature of the charge, despite what they might actually suspect, and my clean record, despite all the burglaries they were thankfully unaware of, bail was set according to a standard schedule rather than my having to wait to see a judge the next day.
I don’t know how much it cost Aaron to bail me out, but of course whatever it was, he could well afford it; and besides, he owed it to me. After all, I was really just his employee, and surely posting bail is a standard employee benefit.
When all the necessary papers had been signed and funds transferred, Aaron and I walked out into the sunshine that I’d been afraid I wouldn’t be seeing for quite a while.
On the way to Aaron’s car, I gave him a hug and a little kiss on the cheek and thanked him for extricating me from the pokey and doing it so quickly. He looked a bit embarrassed by that, but he cleared his throat and said in his best businesslike manner:
“Okay, so why’d you shoot him, and where’d you put the violin?”
Review by Lisabet Sarai
Florence Palmer – Flo to her friends – makes her living as a burglar. She chose this career after getting frustrated with arduous and low-paying alternatives like being a house cleaner, and has discovered that she’s quite good at it. She’s always alert for potential new heists, so when she learns that world-famous virtuoso Aaron Levy has brought his near-priceless Guarneri violin to Seattle for a series of concerts, she sniffs an opportunity. Her plan to sneak into his fancy hotel suite works like clockwork, until the violinist returns unexpectedly to find her with the loot in hand. It looks as though she’s finally slipped up – until she learns that the instrument she’s found is a copy, the real antique has been stolen, and Levy wants her help in getting it back.
Murder with Strings Attached is a light-hearted caper with engaging characters, lots of clever detail, and a whiff of romance. Once you’ve accepted the slightly implausible premise, the plot unrolls briskly, with plenty of snappy dialogue and frequent humor. Despite the title, murder is not the focus of this tale. Two corpses do show up, but they’re almost tangential to the main plot, which involves gaining access to the nearly impregnable mansion of the collector who engineered the original theft, finding the item in question, and getting away without getting added to the tally of dead bodies.
It must be tricky to write a novel where the main character is a criminal, but Mark Reutlinger pulls it off. You can’t help liking Flo. She’s intelligent, hard-working, thorough, resourceful – and cute in the bargain, which does help when you’re trying to allay someone’s suspicions. Aaron’s portrayed as a bit of a bumbler (after all, he left his precious violin in his car, in a highway rest area!), but turns out to have a few surprises up his sleeve. Flo’s somewhat ditsy best friend Sara rounds out the cast. Sara’s prone to drinking a bit too much and going to bed with strangers. However, she’ll do almost anything for her buddy Flo – as long as she’s not risking jail time.
Like Florence, the author of this novel has an orderly and detail-oriented mind. Watching Flo plan and execute the heist is almost as satisfying as listening to a symphony. Then when she finally sets the operation in motion, you’re on the edge of seat, because as Flo knows well, all it takes in one miscalculation – or just plain bad luck – to scuttle a great scheme and land you in prison.
I do wonder, though, about the other heists for which dear Florence is responsible. What about the victims? She doesn’t seem to have much of a conscience. Of course, in this tale, the goods are being stolen by their actual owner, but presumably this isn’t the case for most of her jobs. Flo is smart enough to succeed in an occupation that’s less risky and not quite so morally dubious. Although she does get a bit of a thrill from the chase, she’s too down-to-earth to let that influence her decisions. So why doesn’t she realize that being a burglar bound to end badly?
Probably I’m thinking too much for a cozy mystery. Indeed, I don’t have a lot of experience with this genre, but I’m guessing you’re not supposed to delve too much into the characters’ motivations, just enjoy the ride. And in the case of Murder with Strings Attached, I did.
About the Author
MARK REUTLINGER is an attorney and former law professor. He now writes novels in which the law is frequently broken, including his “Mrs. Kaplan” cozy mystery series (MRS. KAPLAN AND THE MATZOH BALL OF DEATH and A PAIN IN THE TUCHIS) and the political thrillers MADE IN CHINA and SISTER-IN-LAW: VIOLATION, SEDUCTION, AND THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (under the pen name M. R. Morgan). MURDER WITH STRINGS ATTACHED is his latest novel. He is also a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.
Mark and his wife Analee live in University Place, Washington, where in addition to reading and writing he plays clarinet with the Tacoma Concert Band and enjoys tennis, biking, exotic cars, model railroading, and various arts and crafts. He has no idea where he finds the time for it all.
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