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    Review of EARTH COLORS by Sarah Andrews (see her website)

    St. Martin's Minotaur, April 2004

    Em Hansen is waiting out her life--waiting for her boyfriend to return from whatever overseas operation the military sent him on, waiting for her friend's baby to grow older, waiting while she struggles with ideas for her Master's thesis in geology. In the meantime, she sponges off of her mother, lives rent-free with her equally impoverished friend Faye Carter, and visits western art museums to check out the fabulous paintings by Remington. When Faye meets up with an old school friend, she offers Em a way to solve all of her problems. Tert Krehbeil has a possible Remington he'd like tested for authenticity and he's willing to pay Em to use her geological skills to identify the pigments used in painting. It's an opportunity to make some money and pick up a thesis topic. And Faye gets some dates out of it with the handsome Tert.

    Em's detective instincts warn her that something is wrong with the deal--and with Tert, but she can't turn down money. She soon finds herself investigating--and stepping on toes in the FBI who has their own investigation going on. But if Em's fears are right, she's stumbled into something even more serious than paint forging--something very much like murder.

    Author Sara Andrews offers interesting information about the pigments used in 19th century painting (most of them poisons) and in the dangers of suburbinization. Despite these strong points, I found Em to be unsympathetic--too concerned with her own pathetic life, bitter with her mother for not taking better care of Em's prospective inheritance, and angry with Faye for not getting on with her life--as if Em was doing better with her own. I also had a hard time understanding why Terc would ask for Em's advice (let alone pay for it) in the first place. As an art dealer, surely he had plenty of contacts he could use and trust without opening up to a complete stranger.

    EARTH COLORS isn't a bad mystery--it certainly kept me reading. But the unsympathetic protagonist dragged me out of the complete involvement a reader has a right to expect in a first-class mystery.

    Two Stars

    Reviewed 5/09/04

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