It’s satisfying to see a book subtitle that goes beyond defining the genre of a story to impart an exciting sense of its atmosphere. Flies in the Punch Bowl: Art Theft, Cocktails, and High Society sets the stage for a lively whodunit romp through the art world, attracting readers interested in a blend of social commentary and intrigue.

Take a rampage of thievery in Seattle’s art world, inject an amateur artist/sleuth recovering from the impact of forgery on her own efforts, and add Annabel’s motivation for entering an investigative process foreign to her (she wants to restore her reputation in art circles) for a story which neatly balances intrigue with a quest for personal and professional redemption.

Erika Simms writes with a style talented in spicy description: “From the shelf, the bartender selected a bottle of Pernod absinthe and mixed the emerald antidote. “This should soften the blow,” he said. The pained man sipped from the martini. His posture relaxed. “Ordinarily I’d have my attorney sue the other buyer, but he’s currently hiding out on a nude beach in Aruba bronzing his nether regions.”

Hot topics and local gossip, intrigue and confrontation, and a well-paced action-packed story that is injected with wry humor at many turns will attract readers interested in stories that are a cut above the usual one-dimensional whodunit. Simms excels in a sense of irony and fun even when situations are tense: “Exasperated, Lyla hurried up behind me toward the abandoned hotel, mouthing the words reckless and beheading. The second of which made no sense, but I didn’t stop to clarify.

When she caught up, she yanked my stick away and tossed it to the ground, freeing me of the obvious encumbrance. It was the sort of foolish action typically saved for the movies, where the short-sighted protagonist tosses their only semblance of a weapon as the antagonist nears; a blunder on par with that same protagonist dashing upstairs to hide in the shower from an intruder who’s just smashed in through the kitchen window.”

Annabel is not above fudging ethics and truth during her pursuit, and so there are wonderfully succinct reflections embedded into action scenes that leave readers simultaneously thinking, laughing, and entertained: “Finally aware of my presence, the hobo yanked the cash from my fingers and ambled away, the coat dragging like a ragamuffin doll along the dirty cobblestones behind him. I turned my eyes back to the manila folder resting in the passenger seat of the convertible. I thought, two types of people exist in this world—those who get away with things, and those who do not. With that truism in mind, I lifted the folder from the convertible. It put up little fight as I thumbed through its contents.”

Pair an original voice, realistic characters and motives, and solid descriptions of artistic circles and Seattle society for a superior, engrossing, fun story that is highly recommended not just for mystery fans, but for anyone looking for a rollicking good read.

Midwest Book Review