Illicit Artifacts

Illicit Artifacts - Stevie Mikayne Jil, a private investigator, returns to her beloved foster mother Elise's house upon her death to arrange for her funeral and settle her affairs. But something isn't quite right. Someone is impersonating Jil and taking off with Elise's jewelry. Her house feels like it's been broken into but nothing valuable is missing....except, perhaps, a fake painting. And where did Elise, an art history professor, get all the money she'd left to Jil? Worse, Jil has had to deal with her grief, the funerals and everything else alone, because her lover Jess, principal of a Catholic school, isn't out and can't bring herself to be seen in a place as public as a funeral mass with Jil.

As stated in the book blurb, this is primarily a mystery. Which is what we get: a very well-crafted mystery that is slowly revealed bit by complex bit. Patience is required here as there were times when I found myself scratching my head and wondering what the point was of all the elaborate and seemingly unnecessary obfuscation going on. Most of it does make sense at the end, though the book is realistic enough to not feel it has to clear up every single thing, since the only person who knows it all is very dead.

What the blurb doesn't mention is that Jes and her lover Jil's shaky relationship is just as complex, and for me, every bit as compelling a read as the mystery itself, and justifiably gets equal attention in the book (though surprisingly not in the blurb, which is a disservice). Jes and Jil start the book as discreet lovers embarking on their proverbial after-honeymoon phase. This is a welcome departure from the usual romantic subplot. Jes isn't out at work. And being a Catholic educator, it is a very legitimate concern for the safety of her career. The fear of being seen and exposed constantly wars with the wanting and need to be with Jil. (If you're confused with the names now, so was I for most of the book. With the shifting POV, I had to do a mental check every time to make sure I understand who's who. Authors should avoid giving main characters with such similar names. It's extra work for the reader!) Jes' absence at Elise's funeral is like a tipping point for Jil. And their relationship threatens to unravel even before it has started to settle down. I loved this subplot of the book, even more than the mystery itself. Both Jes and Jil's points-of-view are treated equally with depth and understanding.

I might have given this a higher rating but for two small issues. There's a rather strange extended scene involving Jil that felt weird and really out of place: a lifelong lesbian having a sexual attraction to a rough-looking man who may or may not be the bad guy but is definitely adversarial. Maybe if he had movie-star looks or had incredible magnetism or charisma, or maybe if they were stuck together on an island with no other woman in sight, but nope. :) Even weirder is that Jil is still sort of in a relationship at the time. The other nitpick I have with the book has to do with the Jes' (the principal) 'coming out' in public issue. The book makes it out to be a big "do-or-die" issue for their relationship. But Jil's feelings at the end has a bit of a disconnect with her feelings about this for the entire book. She was so adamant that she can't live with someone who isn't out, but then it seemingly became a non-issue after they got back together. I get that the author isn't going for HEA but more of a HFN ending. And there are very positive indicators that that's the direction things are going. But I'm pretty sure they had to have a talk about it--as it was one giant elephant in the room. I would have loved to read about THAT conversation in the book. But, it wasn't there. And Jes, whose POV was a huge part of most of the book, became something of just a sounding board for Jil when things got interesting. It was like her feelings and opinion didn't matter anymore. I was totally invested in this character. She put her life on hold and her health and career on the line for Jil. And we didn't even get to find out what Jes plans to do with her life after this. Is there a sequel, perhaps?

While I seem to be making a big deal out of the two issues, they didn't really impact my enjoyment of the book. One was more of an extraneous scene, and the other a missing one. I still highly recommend this book as a smartly-written mystery with a very good love story underpinning it, a rarity in genre lesfic.

4.5 stars

ARC received from Netgalley.