Pamela Cranston. The Madonna Murders (2003) 327 pp. [tpo]
In 1990, Andrea West, a doctoral candidate at the Episcopal seminary at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, becomes an unwitting sleuth when her friend (and former lover) Michael Beech, a curator at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, is murdered. Michael had invited Andrea, whose doctoral research is on the history of Russian icons, to view the fabled “Icon of Kazan,” which is said to possess miraculous properties and is being displayed to the public at the Holy Virgin Cathedral in San Francisco. Michael was suspicious of the icon’s authenticity and was hoping that Andrea could help him prove that it was a fake. Andrea leaves Michael at the church and the next morning his body is discovered by the Cathedral’s caretaker and the icon is missing. Andrea is dragged into the investigation when she makes the acquaintance of—and subsequently falls in love with—San Francisco Examiner reporter Keith Carlton, who is covering the story. The trail leads from a shadow organization called the Inner Circle, made up of Russian aristocrats and art dealers who want the icon for themselves, to Andrea’s own mysterious past, a past that puts her squarely in the sights of both the police and the Inner Circle’s hit man.
Setting: San Francisco (Holy Virgin Cathedral); Berkeley (Graduate Theological Union)