A woman desperate to achieve her dreams.
To reassure wealthy clients, Christina Alvarez Mancini invented a jet-setting British owner for her Napa Valley wine collection service. Success has brought her close to buying her own winery, when irregularities at a London wine auction threaten her business.
A man in love with a good plan.
Stig, an immortal Viking thief, knows he’s found the perfect role. The California woman who created his character won’t discover what he’s up to in England until after he’s pocketed the money he needs. Then Christina walks into the auction preview, ready to ruin his plans, and he knows his boredom has ended.
Secrets that turn deadly.
By the end of the night, these two rivals must cooperate to escape kidnappers, British authorities, media and a pair of mysterious watchers. That’s when a game Stig’s played for a thousand years puts Christina’s life at risk.
Can two people whose identities are based on lies trust each other enough to survive?
I picked up The Second Lie because I read the first book in this series, First to Burn (reviewed here) and found it flawed but interesting. I was curious to see where the author went with her concept of immortal Vikings who fought with Beowulf against Grendel. My fellow Book Pushers and I all liked Richland’s voice in the first book, but got overwhelmed by plot threads. I hoped that this time would be different.
I also met the author in Seattle and found her voice interesting in person as well. So I definitely went into this book with hope.
And I must admit that I not only liked The Second Lie much better than First to Burn, I also enjoyed it a lot more than the other book I had to review today at Reading Reality. Thank goodness.
While The Second Lie also piled on the plot coincidences the way that First to Burn did, it came out less as “too much over the top plot bunnies” and much more with the high-speed pacing (and chasing) of a romantic suspense-type thriller.
Also our hero was slightly less tortured and our heroine had fewer (although not none) secrets of her own to weigh down her emotional baggage.
It helped a lot that The Second Lie felt like a mix of two of my old favorite TV series, Remington Steele and Scarecrow and Mrs. King. (My vision of Stig is that he looks more like Scarecrow but sounds more like Steele.)
What we have is a story about Christina Alvarez Mancini who owns a Napa Valley wine collection service under the name Morrison and Mancini. But Geoffrey Morrison doesn’t exist, except on paper and on the internet, very much like Remington Steele. Wine snobs just don’t trust women in the business – it’s a last bastion of privileged old boys’ clubbing. The fictional existence of Geoffrey Morrison, British, older and worldly-wise, gives Morrison and Mancini an air of credibility that Mancini alone could not. Her expertise is very, very real, and she is both the brains and the work behind the company, but Morrison’s pseudo existence gives her more cachet.
Until he comes to life. Even worse, he comes to life by creating a wine-swindle using cheap wine and inflated invoices for her actual sales. Her reputation will be ruined unless she can find him and put a stop to his shenanigans. Unfortunately for Christine, she finds the fake pseudo Morrison in the middle of a wine auction, while very bad guys are hot on his tail.
Stig has stepped into Geoffrey Morrison’s imaginary shoes in order to make enough money to save a memorial for someone he once loved from a wrecking ball. He doesn’t think Christina will catch up to him before he can pull of the con. Fortunately for him, she does. Unfortunately for him, she does it at the same time that his past catches up to him, and she gets caught in the crossfire. (Similar to the opening of Scarecrow and Mrs. King)
Stig is one of the immortal Vikings, just like Wulf in First to Burn. Although Stig has been a warrior, he has always been a thief, first and foremost. His theft of a cup from a dragon-hoard got him into the immortal Vikings’ company in the first place, and he continues to steal things for their leader, as demanded, in payment for the original saving of his formerly mortal life.
Some debts take a long time to pay.
Stig and Christina are chased across Europe, pursued by both the evil immortal Vikings and wine investigators and insurance fraud adjusters. The longer they run together, the more they discover that they are a perfect match, in everything except Stig’s immortality.
Christina isn’t sure that she trusts Stig, in any way except to keep rescuing her from the trouble that he dropped her into. He even tells her the truth about himself, but her 21st century mind refuses to believe his seemingly-fanciful story. It’s only when he sacrifices himself to rescue her from a dragon that she admits the truth to herself.
But it may be too late.
This was solidly better than the first book. It is also more lighthearted in spite of the nasty people and things that are after them. It felt like this was because of its two antecedents, which both had elements of romantic comedy mixed with their capers.
Their cross-European adventure is simply fun. From the very beginning, where Christina attempts to face down Stig only to realize that he does, at least momentarily, have the upper hand, until the point where she is kidnapped (again), they have a lot of fun while running for their lives, or at least their freedom.
Stig reveals parts of himself, and his long talented life, to Christina in a way that catches both the imagination and the heart. When he shows her both his secret underground bolt hole and the collection of art masterpieces he stores there, he reveals himself to her without her realizing it. He has been, over the centuries, a great artist. Actually several of them. He has also stolen stuff from everywhere, including art treasures from the Nazis and the missing collection from the Gardiner Museum in Boston.
He’s also completely willing to laugh at himself, stealing multiple cars and smuggling himself and Christina to France through the Chunnel train, by pretending to be a cross-dressing diva looking for his next flamboyant gig.
He brings out the devil in her, and she brings out the hero in him. A match made, if not in heaven, at least in Valhalla.
The fun never ends, until Christina is kidnapped by the evil Vikings. At that point, the story gets a bit grim as we are re-introduced to Jacob and Luc, the old and older operatives that we met in First to Burn. Stig has to put together a last-chance team to rescue the woman he has come to love, even if he won’t admit that to himself.
In the end, he doesn’t slay a dragon for her, but he does ride one.
I give The Second Lie a very solid B.
(p.s. The second dragon is a komodo dragon)