Blue Smoke and Murder is a romantic mystery thriller set amidst the world of Western art and its collectors. When her great aunt is killed in an 'accidental' fire, Jill Breck inherits a dozen beautiful paintings that may or may not prove extremely valuable. Along with her inheritance comes a great deal of danger as it seems there are people who will stop at nothing to see those paintings destroyed. Enter Zach Balfour, a handsome consultant for a corporation that's primary goal is the safety of their clients. Jill and Zach encounter myriad obstacles as they try to discover the identity of the artist, but their increasing feelings for each other seem to be a destraction that may prove disastrous.
I didn't realize this until after I'd read the book, but Blue Smoke and Murder is the latest in a series surrounding the St. Kilda Consulting group (that employs Zach Balfour). I think it would be interesting to read the other books in the series to get a better feel for the back story, but it is certainly not necessary reading. It works perfectly well as a stand alone book.
Having never read anything by Elizabeth Lowell prior to this, I didn't have any expectations. In the early chapters, I had trouble following some of the art speak. However, as the story evolved, it became clearer, and I began to enjoy learning about the world of art as I read this story which was fast-paced and exciting. It reads, to me, as a suspenseful mystery with a romance thrown in, not the other way around. I would compare it to Nora Roberts mysteries with a little more meat in the story. It was obvious Mrs. Lowell either did a great deal of investigation into the world of Western art, or she already had a vast knowledge about the subject. She weaves the mixture of intelligent mystery with the romance so well that it doesn't feel forced. I would recommend the book even to those who aren't particularly keen on romantic novels. I didn't feel like the romance overshadowed what was otherwise a solidly written thriller. Not only did I enjoy the book, I learned quite a lot, too. I will definitely be adding Elizabeth Lowell to my 'to read' list.