It’s been a hot minute since I’ve read any of the Hard Case Crime titles. And by “hot minute”, I apparently mean “five years”. I need to be careful with some of the book titles – as I said in my review for The Cocktail Waitress, it can be slightly awkward to be caught reading books with those covers in a communal break room (or, at my desk where people regularly come over and ask me questions during my lunch break). But I saw this one at the library, and didn’t think the cover was too salacious.
Additionally, this book takes place in Boston – and the back of the book specifically calls out “three unforgettable seasons of Red Sox baseball” – and the main plot concerns a major art heist in Boston.
So yes – I managed to find yet another book that deals with the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum heist. But this book takes a different twist and has it occur in the late 1940s.
Actually, what the book does – which I thought was really cool – was switch through three different years, with the switch occurring every chapter. We begin in 1946, where a couple of mobsters knock over a mob-heavy poker game. In order to stay alive, the low-level mobsters agree to help the primo mobster knock over an art museum – the Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Then the book jumps forty years to 1986, where Tommy Donnelly is living in the Charlesgate, a dorm of Emerson College. Tommy is dealing with the epic highs and lows, the triumphs and defeats of college life, including the 1986 baseball playoffs, which result in the Red Sox going all the way with the Mets to the Series. (And everybody should know what happens in that World Series.)
The book then jumps thirty-ish more years to 2014: the Charlesgate building has been turned into hoity Back Bay condos, and a murder has occurred in one of them. A police detective (or maybe he’s with the FBI) is investigating the murder.
And both the 1986 and 2014 segments of the story have ties back to the Gardner heist. In 1986, one of the mobsters gets released from prison and returns to the Charlesgate, hoping to find one of the missing paintings that was stashed there while they were on the run from the cops. Poor Tommy Donnelly gets wrapped up in the whole thing – the mobster forces Tommy to pretend to be his grandson in order to get access to the building. In 2014, the detective looks back and reads some of Tommy’s old articles in the Emerson newspaper, wherein Tommy tried to paint the Charlesgate as some spooky, ghost-inhabited dorm full of intrigue. But then the detective finds the rumor that one of the Gardner’s missing paintings may be stashed in the Charlesgate, and there’s still a reward out for its return.
I really enjoyed this book. As with any book that takes place in Boston, I always get a small dose of joy when I recognize a place that I’ve been. I don’t think the Charlesgate is a real building, but any of those Back Bay brownstones I’ve driven past numerous times could have subbed in for it. I love baseball (as all y’all should know by now), and while the Cubbies remain my number one team, the Red Sox is my number one team in the American League. And I am still intrigued by the Gardner heist, and I am even more resolved to actually go to that museum this year (I haven’t actually hung out in Boston since the Arctic Monkeys concert where I read Persuasion in nearly a single day).
So what was really funny to me was this: a few weeks ago, I went to the library, hoping to find a copy of The Night Circus (because I lent my copy to a coworker and hadn’t had it returned yet, and I needed to write the review but couldn’t remember any of it), and Charlesgate Confidential was back on the shelf. So I said, “What the heck, I can re-borrow this one too.”
When I opened it up, I found this:
Now, when I borrow a book from the library, I do tend to stick Post Its in the front of the book, where I note the page number and a brief synopsis of the quote I want to pull for the later review. However, I usually remove them when I return the book to the library. And this doesn’t exactly look like my handwriting. I was very curious as to why someone would want to know who was recording rankings. What rankings?
But then I turned to page 127 and read:
“Hey yourself …”
“I know that. You think I’d forget the name of the third greatest album ever recorded?”
“Third? Oh, that’s right. We had this conversation. You have Who’s Next first, right?”
“And … wait, don’t tell me … second place is Quadrophenia?”
“Bzzt. Quadrophenia is top five, no doubt, but I’ve got The Who Sell Out at number two.” [p. 127]
And then I realized two things: 1) That was my handwriting, and I wasn’t asking “who is recording the rankings,” I was reminding myself of “the rankings of records by The Who”, and 2) it’s entirely possible that Charlesgate Confidential had not been checked out of the library since I returned it in March.
I would also put Who’s Next at number 1 and Quadrophenia at number 2. And to be quite honest, I sometimes forget that The Who even wrote Tommy.
Anyway. I really liked this book – the story and mystery of the missing Gardner painting was very good, and I enjoyed the little shout-outs to me that I totally made up – the baseball, the art heist, and The Who.
As for this book’s entry in the 2019 Guster Reading Challenge, I chose “Mona Lisa” off of Goldfly: “Read a book about art or that features art.” I mean, that’s a home run of a choice if ever there was one.
If you see it at your library, pick it up. Who knows – maybe your copy will also have a mysterious Post It note to decipher.
Grade for Charlesgate Confidential: 4 stars