Street of the Five Moons: Vicky Bliss, #2, by Elizabeth Peters
Okay. So in Borrower of the Night, we met Vicky Bliss, medievalist and art historian with a huge brain whose blonde hair, blue eyes and extreme curves make men underestimate her and women hate her.
It's been almost a year since the events of the first book, and Vicky is now working for Herr Professor Doktor Schmidt at the National Museum in Berlin. When Schmidt comes to her with an almost perfect reproduction of the Charlemagne talisman that was found sewn into a dead man's clothing (which obviously means that there must be a plot to rob the museum!) and asks her to put her amateur detecting skills to work, well, who is she to argue? After all, he IS offering her an expense account!
The clues lead her to the Street of Five Moons in Rome, where she has her first run in with her soon-to-be on-again-off-again lover* and nemesis, Sir John Smythe:
I didn't need the clipped, characteristic accent to tell me he was English. The tea and biscuits I had found the night before had led me to expect that the present manager of the shop was of that nation, and his appearance was unmistakable. He reminded me of Lord Peter Wimsey—not only the fair hair and the skin scarcely darkened by the Roman sun, but the air of mild contempt. You couldn't say his nose was big, but it seemed to dominate his face, and although he was sitting down and I was standing, he gave the impression of looking down his nose at me.
Oh, le sigh. If you aren't already acquainted with Sir John, you may not be able to tell that he's a dreamboat, but do take my word for it. He is. He's extremely sarcastic, well-read, very bright, not at all chivalrous, a secret romantic and a bit of a coward. Also, he plays the piano. See? Dreamboat.
More reasons to love Vicky: although her physical assets frustrate her in the academic world, she has no problem putting them to good use while investigating crimes—she giggles and sighs and inhales deeply and men just fall over themselves to give her information. She learned how to pick locks in tenth grade from a boy called Piggy Wilson. She is clearly a huge reader—not only does she compare John to Wimsey in the above passage, but she's always making and recognizing literary references.
And while she and John are running away from Big Men with Big Guns (these things happen...), she isn't shrieking and terrified and exhausted—instead, she is convulsed with laughter. And, of course, she and John have fantastic chemistry and while they would never admit it, the genuinely enjoy each other. While locked in a cellar, Awaiting Their Fate:
"My hero," I said. "I have misjudged you. I am abject. I grovel. And of course my girlish heart is palpitating with rapture because you risked your life--"
The wineglass smashed against the wall with a musical tinkle, and Smythe, turning, threw his arms around me and yanked me up against his chest with a force that drove the wind out of my lungs.
"Will he kiss her or kill her?" I gasped. "Tune in tomorrow and hear the next--"
Smythe's face broke up. He began to laugh. He didn't release me, but his grasp relaxed, so that I was able to find a more comfortable position. We sat there side by side till he finished laughing.
A corset-wearing count, the count's mistress, a huge fountain, a Lovecraftian garden, art forgeries galore, a huge chase scene, a murder, the stealing of clothing from a clothesline, the most frustrating phone call to Munich EVER, a Doberman pinscher named Caesar and an excellent smooch while hiding behind floor-length curtains... I can't wait to re-read Book Three!