Saturday, December 25, 2010

Hot Mahogany

Hot Mahogany by Stuart Woods
While dining one night at Elaine’s, Stone Barrington—back in Manhattan after chasing down the bad guys in the Caribbean—meets Barton Cabot, older brother of his sometime ally, CIA boss Lance Cabot. Barton’s career in army intelligence is even more top secret than his brother’s, but he’s suffering from amnesia following a random act of violence. Amnesia is a dangerous thing in a man whose memory is chockfull of state secrets, so Lance hires Stone to watch Barton’s back. As Stone discovers, Barton is a spy with a rather unusual hobby: building and restoring antique furniture. The genteel world of antiques and coin dealers at first seems a far cry from Stone’s usual underworld of mobsters, murderers, and spies. But Barton also is a man with a past, and one event in particular— in the jungles of Vietnam more than thirty years earlier— is coming back to haunt his present in ways he’d never expected. Stone soon finds out that Barton, and some shady characters of his acquaintance, may be hiding a lot more than just a few forged antiques.
--Hot Mahogany by Stuart Woods, Copyright ©2008 by Stuart Woods, published by Putnam Books

My Review
Hot Mahogany is the 15th book in Stuart Woods’ Stone Barrington series. The story opens at Elaine’s, a tony New York restaurant that Stone dines at regularly. He’s surprised to see an older version of his friend, CIA director Lance Cabot, standing at the door. The situation is explained when Lance himself arrives and speaks to Stone quietly. The other man is his older brother, Barton, whom Lance himself hasn’t seen for many years. Barton is suffering a mild case of amnesia…could Stone look after him for a day or two while Lance takes care of a very important, very classified situation overseas? Of course, Stone agrees and Lance departs, leaving Barton in Stone’s very capable hands.

Using his police contacts, Stone is able to find out where Barton lives. As luck would have it, Barton’s home is not far from Stone’s second home in Washington, CT. The next morning, Barton is feeling much more like himself. His memory hasn’t fully returned, but he feels well enough, so Stone drives him home. Barton shows Stone around his home, including the barn where he works as a furniture builder and restorer. But Barton isn’t just an ordinary carpenter. He’s an expert at reproducing antique American furniture. His work is so good, noted furniture experts can’t tell the difference between his work and the original.
He shows Stone a piece he keeps hidden in his workshop, a mahogany secretary made in the 18th century by Goddard and Townsend, a Colonial American furniture maker. The problem is, he’s unsure if the secretary in his barn is the original or the copy. The other is in his van, which was stolen the night of the accident that caused his amnesia. Barton asks Stone to help him locate his stolen van so he can recover his missing secretary. Stone agrees to help.

But there’s more to this tale than just a missing piece of furniture. Becoming an expert furniture reproducer takes not only talent, but money. And Barton has money. Lots of money. What exactly are the origins of Barton’s wealth? What happened to his promising career as a U.S. Marine during the Viet Nam war? Why did he disappear from his brother’s life more than 20 years ago and stay “missing” all those years? Who was responsible for his “accident” and his stolen van? Is the original or the reproduction secretary lost along with the van or is the piece about to make an appearance on the auction circuit, where it could fetch as much as 25 million dollars? And how does Stone’s technical go-to guy, Bob Kantor, connect to Barton Cabot?

As if solving those mysteries wasn’t enough to keep Stone busy, there’s also his ever complicated love life. A former lover of his, Eliza, is set to walk down the aisle shortly, a feat Stone is sure is only a ploy to get his attention, while he begins to date one woman with a volatile soon-to-be ex, and then another who appears to be more his type of woman. No woman manages to stay in his life for long, but will Tatiana prove to be the exception to the rule?

I love Stuart Woods’ Stone Barrington novels. They’re not your typical shoot-em-up whodunits or your typical lawyer-centered mysteries with a lot of law-speak. Stone is a simple, straightforward man who gets involved in the most complicated scenarios and always manages to come out clean in the end with barely a hair out of place and usually with a woman on his arm. There is an underlying continuity thread among the series, but each story stands alone and each story is a terrific read. I very strongly recommend Stuart Woods’ books, primarily the Stone Barrington and Ed Eagle series.

I give this story FIVE STARS.

No comments: