Fire and Ice
by B.T. Polcari
The Wild Rose Press

"Only Sara Donovan can come up with someone going to great lengths, including digging a tunnel, to steal one of the world’s largest diamonds..."

Both young adult and adult readers will quickly be charmed by this standalone sequel to Against My Better Judgment, the first book in Polcari's award-winning A Mauzzy & Me Mystery Series. The determination and grit of university student Sara Donovan are once again put to the test when the amateur sleuth discovers irregularities while working as a museum archivist intern during her summer break. As the story opens, the Carlton Museum staff are scrambling to install a traveling exhibit of diamonds and rubies on the last stop of a two-year national tour.

Sara and her intern colleague, Danielle, are granted permission by the chief curator to join her and the security staff as they place the world-famous gemstones in the valuables vault. The girls expect to simply witness the dazzling stones for a few seconds before these are placed under lock and key to await the high-security exhibit's debut the next day. Feisty Sara snaps a couple of surreptitious, unauthorized photos with her cell phone after being reminded of the no photo rules. As she returns to her cubicle to close up shop and leave for the day, chaos ensues. A sudden power outage leaves the area pitch black while Sara's canine sidekick, Mauzzy, escapes his carrier underneath her desk. This is not an unusual situation with the wily, independent dachshund. But when Sara tries to retrieve him in the dark, she finds the pooch scratching at a wall outside the valuables vault. She knows Mauzzy wouldn't lose his mind scratching at a wall unless he heard something on the other side. She soon discovers that her suspicion of a jewel heist must be legit when her photos of the Star of Midnight diamond in the vault and the one on display aren't identical.

Thus begins a well-researched crime-busting adventure that takes on ever-deeper meaning and mystery with every page. Besides her family's and friends' alternating skepticism and contributions to her quest, Sara rubs shoulders with high-stakes intelligence operatives, security experts, and potential criminals, one of whom must have also stolen the three 150-year-old journals that she discovers are missing from the museum vault. Sara's superiors aren't too keen on what they consider her cockamamie theories about how the Star of Midnight diamond has been replaced by a fake or why the journals under her care are missing. At the risk of losing her job, Sara takes the situation into her own hands, yielding unexpected and often hilarious results.

Polcari transforms what could be a clichéd plot and spices it up with colorful, engaging characters, accessible, conversational prose, down-to-earth dialogue, and a flair for storytelling that will keep readers turning pages even as plot points become obscure and technical. The author does a stellar job presenting technical information regarding the tunnel systems underneath Washington, D.C., and how these could be used to access a highly secure museum vault. Another well-executed plot twist demonstrates how the fictional museum founder's fortune in gold and emeralds—gained from an old shipwreck and possibly buried on his estate—can potentially be accessed through tantalizing clues carved in his former office and at his tomb. The mind-numbing numerical book cipher code, as Sara, her brother, and their friend discover, is so obscure that no one has figured out what book to use until now. Even Sara's father, an NSA employee who knows much more about cracking codes than the average treasure hunter, expresses how difficult book cipher codes are to unravel. Through character interactions like this, Polcari distills what could otherwise be boring technical info about codes and ciphers into fascinating, novel-worthy tidbits that keep the story moving.

The humorous bent lightens the suspense and near calamities of Sara's investigation, but the laughs don't detract from the high-stakes danger that she fearlessly and foolishly places herself in. For example, at one critical juncture, Sara becomes the FBI's person of interest in the case. Yet she's somehow able to talk circles around the agents' attempts to tie her to the stolen diamond and missing journals. Likable, stalwart, stubborn, idealistic, and quirky, Sara Donovan is an unforgettable character with the potential to solve many more mysteries with the delightful Mauzzy at her side.

A 2023 Eric Hoffer Book Award Category Finalist

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