Blue Smoke and Murder (St. Kilda Series #3)

Blue Smoke and Murder (St. Kilda Series #3)

by Elizabeth Lowell

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Jill Breck was just doing her job as a river guide when she saved the life of the son of two of St. Kilda Consulting’s premier operators. But when a string of ominous events — including a mysterious fire that kills her great-aunt and a furor in the Western art world raised by a dozen Breck family paintings — culminates in a threat to her life, Jill finally calls in a favor.

Zach Balfour works part-time as a consultant for St. Kilda. Though he’s got the skills to be a highly effective bodyguard, being a bullet catcher isn't his preferred way to spend time. But Jill is in deeper waters than she’s ever known, and she’ll need his protection; as she soon discovers, the perils of running wild rivers are tame compared with the hidden dangers in the high-stakes game of art collecting. Together, Zach and Jill must race against time to unmask a ruthless killer hidden in the blue smoke of money, threats, lies, and death. . . .

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060829865
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 03/31/2009
Series: St. Kilda Series , #3
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 515,098
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Lowell has more than eighty titles published to date with over twenty-four million copies of her books in print. She lives in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with her husband, with whom she writes novels under a pseudonym. Her favorite activity is exploring the Western United States to find the landscapes that speak to her soul and inspire her writing.

Date of Birth:

April 5, 1944

Place of Birth:

Milwaukee, Wisconsin


B. A., University of California, 1966

Read an Excerpt

Blue Smoke and Murder

Chapter One

Northern Arizona

Something was wrong.

Heart beating wildly, Modesty Breck sat up in bed. Listening over the pounding of her pulse, she tried to understand what had jerked her out of her sleep.

The wind blew hard, swirling around the old ranch house. She ignored the sound of rushing air. In the high, desolate reaches of Arizona's northern strip, the wind always blew.

The noise came again.

The front window groaned as someone pushed it up in the old wooden frame. Like her, groaning at every movement of her dry, brittle body. With fingers gnarled by arthritis, she found her glasses on the bedside table and shoved them into place, grateful that her hearing was still plenty good.

She fumbled under her narrow bed for the .22-caliber snake gun that was older than she was. Its lever action jammed more often than it fired, but the prowler wouldn't know that.

When she struggled to her feet, the cold rose through the old wooden floor into her thick wool socks. Over the protests of stiff muscles and joints, she walked quietly to the bedroom door, her long flannel nightgown ragged where it touched the floor. The kitchen door was open, always, taking advantage of the residual heat from the oil stove.

A muffled thump came from the living room. Footsteps crossed the groaning wooden floor. Then a scuff when an old throw rug slipped underfoot.

Modesty smiled grimly. She didn't need any fancy burglar alarms when she was surrounded by an old house whose every creak was as familiar as her own breathing.

From beyond thehouse came the triumphant yowl of one of the barn cats parading a fresh kill in the moonlight. Like everything else living on the old ranch, the feral cats earned their keep.

Modesty waited, listening to the sounds of someone sneaking around her living room, opening old cupboards and drawers, closing them, moving on.

Finding nothing.

When the intruder headed into the kitchen, Modesty knew he wouldn't be able to see her. Quietly, avoiding the loose rugs and boards that creaked, she crept in the direction of the kitchen.

The intruder was a black shadow in the moonlight pouring through the window over the sink. The pantry door squeaked as he opened it.

She flipped on the kitchen light.

Score cursed and spun around. Just my luck. The old lady has insomnia.

"Black ski mask, just like in the news," Modesty said, her voice as brittle as her bones. "Black coveralls and an itty-bitty flashlight. Where you from, boy?"

Score started for her.

She cocked the rifle. She would have levered in a round, but was afraid that it would jam, leaving the action open and the rifle useless except as a club.

"Go back where you came from," Modesty said.

Darkness stared at her from the openings in the ski mask. "Take it easy, Mrs. Breck. I'm not here to hurt you."

The voice, like the man, was low and thick. Though only a few inches taller than her five feet four inches, the man was muscular, stocky, easily twice her weight. None of it was paunch.

"That's Miss, not Mrs. Never cared for men. Nothing but trouble." Modesty gestured toward the back door with the rifle. "Git."

Score took another step forward, looked at the rifle and laughed coldly. "That old .22 is more likely to blow up in your face than hurt me."

Watching the weapon, Score came closer to Modesty without even appearing to move. He could tell by the blurred centers of the old lady's eyes that she was half-blind. Two more gliding steps and he'd have the rifle.

She tightened her crooked finger and the trigger. "I'll take my chances on it."

"Lady." Score's temper spiked. He pulled it in. Now wasn't the time to let his rage boil up. Save it for the gym. "You look like you could use some money. I've got five hundred on me. Tell me where the paintings are and it's yours."

Modesty felt like echoing the cat's yowl of triumph. I knew those paintings were worth something. I'll be able to pay those back taxes without selling off the last of the stock.

"Got all the money I need," she said. "Now git!"

She hadn't noticed the man moving, but suddenly the barrel of the rifle was pointed at the ceiling. With a wrench that made her hands ache, he yanked the gun out of her hands.

"Enough with the fun and games," Score said. He glanced at the breech and saw that the rifle had jammed. With a disgusted snarl he set the old weapon on the kitchen counter. "Where are the paintings?"

"Only pictures I have are family photos and such. What use are they to you?"

He stepped up so close she had to put a crick in her neck just to see the vague, blurred line of his mouth through the slit in the mask. If he had a neck, it was as thick as his upper arms.

"Don't make me hurt you," he warned. "Where are the paintings?"

"I'm near ninety. Pain doesn't scare me."

Score smiled slowly. "Yeah? How long will you be able to live here alone with every finger in your hands broken?"

Modesty made a small sound. Her greatest fear was being hauled off to some state institution to die with strangers puking and screaming around her.

I'll walk off a cliff first. But I'll go knowing that Jillian will be one Breck woman who won't have to depend on some damn man to survive.

Those paintings are her future.

"The only painting I have is the one I sent to an art dealer outside Salt Lake a month ago," Modesty said. "He wrote me the other week, said he sent it out for more opinions, and some fool lost it."

The man's mouth curled into a small smile. "You told the dealer there were twelve more paintings. Where are they?"

Blue Smoke and Murder. Copyright © by Elizabeth Lowell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Blue Smoke and Murder (St. Kilda Series #3) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I started reading Elizabeth Lowell books in college. I have all of Elizabeth Lowell's books. Winter Fire, Pearl Cove and Enchanted are among my favorite books. Every time Lowell releases a new book, I get super excited and head to B&N to purchase it. I have all of them! (I've already noted that :) ) Now, I am fully aware that Elizabeth Lowell as well as other commercial romance novelists are no Fitzgerald or Steinbeck. Still, I can't help feeling depressed and disappointed. My disappointment started with "The Secret Sister" and has now hit rock-bottom with "Blue Smoke and Murder." First, the characters are boring. I don't even remember their names and I just finished reading it three hours ago. I found Jill to be absolutely annoying and Zach uninteresting. Jill...aargh...wasn't she supposed to save Faroe's son life... she is after all an expert river guide. In fact had she been doing her job right, he shouldn't have fallen into the river in the first place. The only remarkable attribute was her lack of fake boobs. There was no vulnerability in her character like in Hannah from Pearl Cove. Even her past is muddled and bland. I found myself thinking boo hoo who cares. Zach was also a waste and incompetent. Really, why did he not check the bugged phone? Zach is nothing like any of Lowell's best male characters. Where is Archer's sharp wit or Simon's devotion? Nothing in the book makes me believe that Zach and Jill will live happily ever after--forever! In fact, their romance is more like a one-night stand than anything else. The plot is also frail and predictable. I guessed what the whole plot twist was at the beginning. Trust me you'll know what I mean. There was absolutely no surprise. Which leads me to my next complaint...really I know that romances tend to be repetitive --woman meets man, they like each other, struggle, have sex, struggle some more and then live happily ever after-- yet it feels like Elizabeth Lowell simply recycled Always Time To Kill onto this story, changed the names and title, and took out all the excitement. It makes me wonder if she was even trying. All in all I give this book and F. Don't buy! It's a waste of 8 bucks. I bought it, which is unfortunate for me. I can truly say that this book broke my heart. My romance with Elizabeth Lowell books is officially finished.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read a couple of Lowell's other books and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed them. The Donovan books are by far her best works. I bought and finished the Wrong Hostage about a week ago, and for the first time was really disappointed. The characters, which also appear in Blue Smoke and Murder were so blah and the story was very tepid. Nevertheless, I decided to buy Blue Smoke and Murder, after all one bad book was not necessarily an indicator of future Lowell books. I was wrong, of course. Blue Smoke and Murder is one of the most dull and predictable books I've ever had the displeasure of reading. The characters are underdeveloped and boring and Lowell bogs the reader down with long and boring conversations about the art trade. I found myself skimming over dozens and dozens of pages. Ugh! Furthermore, the twist--per say--is the lame and predictable. The first couple of pages give it away. I don't know if Lowell's talent is on hiatus but I hope it returns. Her books are in need of some freshness and suspense. I sorely miss her old books but lately all that she has been producing is ----. Buy if you are having problems sleeping...I think I fell asleep reading this junk of a book about ten times. Otherwise don't buy. Trust me, it's a waste of money, waste of time and waste of environmental resources.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Not at all up to the usual standard of St. Kilda books. The characters were unremarkable and sometimes foolish (not checking the sat phone for a bug right away was just unbelievable, especially for operatives of that caliber!) They also droned on way too long about the ins and outs of the art world. It was almost like listening to a western art appreciation manual, with snippets of a story woven in. I purchased the audio book and it was SO not worth the money! Rent it from the library if you must, but I recommend not wasting the time it would take to read it, let alone the money to purchase it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Blue Smoke and Murder - by Elizabeth Lowell (on sale May 27th in hardcover) Meet Jillian 'Jill' Breck. A white-water river guide, ex-Fundamentalist Mormon, artist, new owner to 13 un-signed paintings by a famous Western genre artist, and the woman who once saved the life of the son of two of St Kilda Consulting's premier operators. They now owe her...and it's time for Jill to collect. You see, Jill just had her vehicle totally vandalized, one of the questionable paintings shredded and a death threat issued. Meet Zach Balfour a part-time consultant for St. Kilda and ready to finish a long awaited vacation. With his expertise in gathering information and analyzing it, he isn't so happy to learn that he is needed to cut short his plans to 'baby-sit' Jill. Until he meets her and realizes that this in NOT just another babysitting job. Jill is an earthy, smart, woman who is used to looking out for herself. She can guide people through the tumbling rapids of the Colorado river and discuss Zach's favorite topic. But now people are setting fires and shooting at her. This fast paced, action driven, very well researched, romantic suspense/ thriller takes us deep into the world of very high priced Western genre art and the people who perpetuate millions of dollars in art fraud each year. While some may say that Ms Lowell over-emphasizes the technical part of painting, collecting art, and the manner in which one may perpetuate a fraud...I found it to be highly interesting both in learning about the Western genre Masters, of painting and the technical side of collecting. Ms Lowell does a very fine job combining these issues with a wonderfully fast paced cat and mouse game with Jill's life at stake and a blossoming romance between Jill and Zach that never seems to stretch credibility. Jill and Zach, along with the secondary and tertiary characters are very well drawn, well fleshed and believable. The situations that Ms Lowell puts Zach and Jill in never make me need to fight for the suspension of disbelief I loved this book right from the very first chapter until the nail biting conclusion, and have already ordered the other 2 books in the St Kilda's series. I certainly hope we hear more about these men and women of St. Kilda's.
sferguson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good book, and just like all of Lowell's works (at least those I've read), the suspense and art is great. Like many of her works, the action and operations side of the book is not quite up to the highest standards and that is all that detracts from the story. Unless you read techno-thrillers it is unlikely that you will see anything wrong or have had any hand in the operational side of things, it is unlikely that you will give this book less than five stars.
amf0001 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oddly plot heavy and not romantic at all, there was little sexual tension (which Ms Lowell usually does so well) and a lot about tax wroughts and donated art.. I liked Jill Breck she was a smart, resourceful heroine. I didn't even mind Zach Balfour, the St Kilda operative sent to help her who coincidentally happened to be a western art expert (and how lucky was that!) I just didn't enjoy the plot. I found the art angle obvious and heavy handed and the twist at the end not so twisty and not very interesting. There was barely any sexual tension or romance. A disappointing read.
SunnySD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
River guide Jill Breck didn't know she was saving her own life when she fished the son of two of St. Kilda's top operatives out of the rapids, but when some family paintings put assassins on her trail, St. Kilda's agent Zach Balfour is all that stands between her and certain death.A bit formulaic, and not Lowell's best, but readable.
ImBookingIt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book, but weeks afterward, the details are merging with other similar books I've read.The setup is somewhat implausible, but I can deal with that. I think that events flow fairly reasonably once you accept it. Elizabeth Lowell is good at the thriller side of the story.She's also good at the characters, which is (to me) the most important aspect of a romance novel. I enjoyed the different aspects of Jill's personality-- her career and the aspects of her personality that make her successful as a river guide; her family loyalty that calls her back to deal with her great-aunt's estate; and (of course) the part that makes her a good character in a romance novel.Zach is similarly interesting, although with somewhat less depth. Watching their relationship develop was fun.
jjmachshev on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Elizabeth Lowell is one of my auto-buy romantic suspense authors. I can never wait for the paperbacks either, so I just grin and shell out the $ for the hardcovers 'cause I know she'll provide a few hours of good reading now and I'll re-read it at least once every couple of years when I'm in need of a Lowell 'fix'! "Blue Smoke and Murder" is her latest and it's a headrush of action and tension from start to finish.The entire events of the book take place over a little less than two months...BUT, the real action and 9/10 of the book takes place in 5 days. Just reading it about gave me a heart attack and I didn't want to put it down 'til I knew what would happen next and...well, I'm sure you can guess how that went!The book opens with the murder of a fiesty 90-year-old woman. She's our heroine's Aunt Mercy and I was actually sorry we didn't get to hear more from her as she was a hell of a dame! But our heroine is Mercy's heir. Her name's Jill and she's a river guide who happened to save the life of two top St. Kilda Consulting operatives' son. She pocketed the card they gave her figuring she'd never need it...but of course she does...and pretty darn quickly too. Part of her inheritance is a set of 13 paintings. When she does some research, it appears that one of those paintings may have caused her aunts murder. So she uses her card and in steps Zach. Zach is quite the character. Smart, rugged, and handily enough, an art expert. He pilots Jill through the white water of greed, lies, politics, and murder that makes up the world of high ticket art collections. Neither of their lives will ever be the same.Another read I couldn't put down from Elizabeth Lowell. If you like Coulter, Johansen, or owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of "Blue Smoke and Murder". I bet you'll get hooked too.
dearheart on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The basis of the book has already been outlined, so I won¿t bother with that aspect of it.It appears there should be a new genre type; Suspenseful Romance. Unlike some other Romantic Suspense books I¿ve read, the main drive of the book is heavy on the suspense with only a small portion of the book dedicated to the romance aspect. That¿s not in any way a dig. We know as soon as they meet that Jill and Zach are attracted, but more often than not, it¿s more like the soundtrack in a movie. We know it¿s there and it comes to the forefront at times, getting a little louder as we near the end of the book.The suspense begins fairly quickly and keeps up right through to the end of the story. The bad guys are identified and stopped, but we¿re left with wanting to know what happens next to Jill and Zach. Hopefully they¿ll be mentioned again in a future book.It is important for the story that we have an understanding of what takes place in the world of art and the author does a good job of bringing us up to speed. Perhaps a little more information than I wanted, and a couple of times I got lost in the explanation for a short time. I highly rate the suspense, the way the romance was handled, the fast pace, points of view from so many different characters involved, and the apparent research done by the author.This author was new to me. I¿ve just ordered to more of her books.
wirtley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jill, a river guide inherited paintings from her grandmother. There is also a very price art auction coming up. Jill sends out copies of three paintings to art collectors. Then, she her life is threatened twice. She asks for help from a consulting company. Zach becomes her protector and a romance blooms. There is a mystery about the paintings that must be solved inbetween between death threats. Enjoyable romance.Suspense is average.
ReadingKnitter01 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
typical for the genre-romantic thriller-a good beach read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Never disappointed reading one of Lowell's books .
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cah59 More than 1 year ago
good read
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