Author: Elizabeth Peters, AKA Barbara Michaels, AKA Barbara Mertz
Title: Trojan Gold
Publication Date: 1987
Number of Pages: 354, paperback
Part of a Series: Yes. “A Vicky Bliss Mystery.” This is the fourth in a five-part series. The first title in the series is Borrower of the Night.
- Art history
- Female detective
- Gentleman thief
- Romantic suspense fiction
- Unwanted harem
- Vicky Bliss
Geographical Setting/ Time Period: Munich and Bad Steinbach in the 1980s, West Germany.
- Vicky Bliss, a smart, snarky art historian
- John Smythe, a handsome, mysterious art thief
- Herr Doktor Anton Z. Schmidt, a wacky and nosy museum director
Plot Summary: Vicky Bliss receives a bloodied package with a photograph of a woman wearing the jewels of Helen of Troy, which disappeared during WWII. The mystery of their whereabouts takes Vicky to a hotel where warm memories have been buried with the dead, and her wacky colleagues are possible murderers. It also takes her back into the dangerous arms of the mysterious thief John Smythe, whose rivals for her affections could also be rivals for the Trojan Gold!
Appeal: The characters are quickly revealed, while the plot reveals its layers at a more leisurely pace, building up into a crescendo of action near the end. The strength of the book is in the characters’ dialogue and the narrator’s inner monologue, yet the description is efficient and evocative. Peters uses just enough words to bring the reader into the setting and establish the atmosphere. The writing is casual, but the allusions to art and antiquities, the longer, more complex sentences, and the use of German vocabulary eases the pacing. Because this is a series, the plot is end-oriented and the characters’ relationships are open-ended.
As is the case in romantic suspense novels, the narrator is the female protagonist, and there are parts from the point-of-view of the killer. The readers are supposed to identify with Vicky Bliss; her character and her friends are the most important part of the book. The fun of the book is the way that characters react to the plotline happening to them. There are definitely memorable secondary characters, namely Schmidt and John Smythe. Schmidt is the main comic relief; where Vicky Bliss is genre savvy, Schmidt is genre blind, which gets him and Vicky into dangerous and humorous situations. John Smythe is one of Vicky’s romantic interests, and the most intense and bad-boyish of them all. He is the very definition of estrogen brigade bait.
The story is a humorous, gentle mystery in a series, so while it is action-oriented, it emphasizes the characters and their reactions to the events. It takes place at Christmastime in Germany during the Cold War, and Peters is excellent at describing the setting, giving details about the history of the plot, the setting, and the characters. She is able to set the tone in such a way that while you’re laughing at the antics of the characters, you’re aware of the danger they are in constantly. It provides an interestingly tense atmosphere.
Brief quote: Schmidt’s reaction to this beautiful sentiment was openmouthed indignation. I looked around for something to put in his mouth before he could put his foot in it. However, he had eaten everything. So I kicked him in the ankle, and he began swearing in fluent Mittelhochdeutsch. (pg. 235)
Prizes or Awards: This book has not won any awards.
Similar Works: From Novelist’s “Author Read-Alikes”: Sharyn McCrumb, Elizabeth MacPherson Mystery series, 1st book is Sick of Shadows (1989); Catherine Lanigan, adventure & romance, recommended book is The Legend Makers (1999); Joan Wilder (Lanigan’s pen name) adventure & romance, Romancing the Stone (1984) & The Jewel of the Nile (1985); Dashiell Hammett, husband & wife humorous mystery, The Thin Man (1934); Carolyn G. Hart, Annie Laurance & Max Darling are modern husband & wife team, 1st book is Death on Demand; Jayne Ann Krentz, contemporary humorous romantic mystery, suggests Smoke in Mirrors (2002); Amanda Quick (Krentz’s pen name) historical humorous romantic mystery, suggests Mistress (1994).
Reviewer’s Name: Natalie Garner
Form adapted from Saricks, Joyce G. and Nancy Brown. Readers= Advisory Service in the Public Library 2nd. Chicago: ALA, 1997.