Before I reached the midpoint of this book, which was offered to me free for reviewing, I concluded that anyone who read and enjoyed J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy (as I did), most likely will enjoy this one as well. Both focus on in-depth development of each and every character, warts and all, and, ultimately, showing how they're all connected. As in that book, all the characters in this one have "issues" - some more than others. Some are totally unlikable and others are tolerable, but there wasn't a single one I didn't want to smack upside the head after "meeting" him (or her) a couple of times.
The main character, for instance, is a 45-year-old poetry-writing recluse who has spent her last 25 years cleaning house and helping with an elderly man in New Mexico. She (Kathryn Winesky, a.k.a. Zinc), lives in a casita on the old man's property. She's perfectly content with the status quo, not caring about earning more money or trying new things. As for making her own decisions? Fuhgettaboutit.
The old man, named Thomas Quickwater, loves to buy works of art; over the years as he acquires new paintings, he gives the ones he's replacing to Zinc. Quickwater has a daughter, Marge, who is downright nasty and has taken over his financial affairs - and she's made it clear to Zinc that the paintings are loans, not gifts. When the old man, who's almost 94, falls and dies (near the beginning of the story), Marge tells Zinc she wants all the paintings returned to the estate and that Zinc must leave her beloved casita. Marge expects to collect 44 - the number she has recorded as being on loan - but it turns out there's a 45th. Zinc discovers the error and - after considerable arguing back and forth with her conscience - chooses one to hide away for herself (thus, I assume, providing the book's title).
Zinc ends up staying temporarily with her brother, Frankie, who lives not far away and is an auto mechanic; her presence there is over his objections, since they don't get along well (like me, he finds it hard to understand her lackadaisical attitude toward her own life and difficulty making decisions). To that end, she waffles between feeling guilty for "stealing" the extra painting and the belief that it held special meaning for her former employer and he would have wanted her to own it. In the end, guilt wins out, and she decides to send Marge an email apologizing for her behavior and offering to return the painting.
As her [dumb] luck would have it, though, the email is sent to a man who has a similar name - Mark Quickwater, also a poet - who lives in Antigua. The two strike up an online relationship (more dumb luck, as Zinc somehow never realizes the error of the email she thought she'd sent to Marge), Zinc accepts his invitation to meet in person and hops on a plane despite just having landed a new job at the local Chamber of Commerce. They spend an idyllic week there, and Zinc returns home in love and with a suntan deeper than she's ever had before (making me wish I knew her secret; I don't sunburn easily, but if I ever spent outdoor time anywhere in the southern hemisphere, I'd be a crispy critter within an hour or two).
Anything more said about Zinc's adventures will spoil things, but given the complexities, peccadilloes and backgrounds of all the characters here, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that there's really no happy ending - in fact, there's not much of an ending at all (as we all know, life goes on with or without our permission). All in all, the book is very well written, and the detail and often seemingly pointless conversations really do happen for a good reason - tying everything and everyone together.
Well, almost; there's a bit of a twist at the end that suggests there may be a follow-up novel in the works. Stay tuned!
The Accidental Art Thief by Joan Schweighardt (Twilight Times Books, May 2015); 232 pages.