Monday, May 3, 2010

The Eye of the Virgin

Title: The Eye of the Virgin

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Pub Date: 07/01/2010

ISBN: 9781590587607

Author: Frederick Ramsay
Category: FICTION - ADULT: Mystery, Detective, Suspense & Thrillers: Mystery & Detective

On the same evening that a body is found in Picketsville's urgent care clinic, a mysterious break-in occurs at the house of one of Callend University's faculty. Both seem to be connected to an icon, The Virgin of Tenderness, in the faculty member's possession. The fact that the body is that of the faculty member's ex-wife's lover who, more interestingly, seems to have entered the country under an assumed name, only complicates things for Sheriff Ike Schwartz.

Then, what appears to be outdated spycraft-a microdot-is found on the icon. In an era of sophisticated cyber-encrypted information transfer, the presence of this bit of CIA nostalgia brings in Charlie Garland and the forces from Langley.

Ike has no wish to engage with them or their problems. He has killers to apprehend and sets out to do his job in spite of the meddling by government agencies. That the bit of spycraft is something more than old time microphotography and it carried information that implicates the involvement of Israel's super secret Mossad only adds to an already messy set of problems. A dead CIA agent, a rogue handler, and a potential international incident are avoided outside the faculty member's house as the good, the bad, and the ugly are neatly sorted and carted away.

During the course of all this, Ruth's mother arrives for an extended visit, Ike and Ruth are officially engaged, and the Sutherlins-Billy, Frank, and Essie-like Dilsey Gibson, endure.

I received an ARC of The Eye of the Virgin from the publisher via NetGalley. Disclaimer: I received no compensation for this review, which is my personal opinion upon reading the galley.
The Eye of the Virgin is the sixth book in Ramsay's Ike Schwartz Mysteries series. Ike is former CIA operative who is now Sheriff of a university town called Picketsville. Ike has a full and happy life, with  a Sheriff's Department to run and a feisty girlfriend to spar with. What appears at first to simply be a busy day at the office, with a break-in and a murder to investigate, quickly becomes a complex case involving the FBI, CIA, and even Mossad.
There is no need to have read the previous Ike Schwartz books to understand what is going on here. Ramsay has created an interesting genre; half cozy mystery and half international spy thriller. The cozy mystery half wins, with appealing, quirky characters and settings, and a gentle hero in Ike Schwartz. But the narrative is pushed along by the complicated plot involving double identities and operatives-gone-rogue. I enjoyed reading The Eye of the Virgin because it was dominated by the mystery itself, but I must admit that I got a little bit lost at times!
I enjoyed that fact that Ramsay has given his lead character, Ike, a wide range of interests. The passages in The Eye of the Virgin involving iconography were particularly interesting to me, adding another layer to the novel. Ramsay is himself a medical doctor, an ordained priest and an iconographer as well as an author! I suspect he has some measure of desire to add "small town sheriff" to that list, but is making do by living vicariously through Ike!
An enjoyable read for cozy mystery lovers who are looking for something with a bit more meat.

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