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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Multiple Exposure by Ellen Crosby

Scribner, 320 pages, $25

Multiple Exposure is a book whose characters and theme are probably closer to what author Ellen Crosby deals with in her actual life than the books she wrote as part of her popular wine country series. She is a "former freelance reporter for The Washington Post and the Moscow correspondent for ABC Radio News," according to her biography. This book deals with international intrigue and a character who was a photographer for an international press organization. As Sophie Medina says repeatedly, "I've been in war zones."

Americans Sophie Medina and her husband Nicholas Canning were very happy in England, Sophie in the aforesaid photography job and Nicholas as an executive with a British oil company, working in a former Soviet republic. Oh, yes, he is also a CIA agent. Perhaps "was" is the operative word, because Nicholas has disappeared, ostensibly kidnapped from his home, with all signs pointing to his death. Sophie is devastated and ignorant of what has happened to her husband.

A few months after Nick disappears, Sophie sadly moves back to Washington, D.C., an area she knows intimately. She reconnects with old friends and family, including her imperious mother, and gets a job working for a photography agency owned by Luke Santangelo.

Sophie and Luke have been hired to shoot the unveiling of two recently discovered FabergĂ© eggs at the National Gallery in D.C. The owner is an ultra-rich Russian, Arkady Vasiliev, who dabbles in oil and may dabble in crime as well. The curator is his girlfriend's mother, Katya Gordon. Senator Scott Hamilton and his wife, socialite Roxanne Hathaway, also have a Russian connection. She is a director at the National Gallery, and he has an old college friend, Taras Attar, a Russian author. During the reception, there is open hostility between the Russian ambassador and Senator Hathaway about Hathaway playing host to Attar, a vocal critic of the current Russian government. 

Crosby makes Sophie a likable and believable character. My bĂȘte noire is when a character (almost invariably a plucky female character) decides he/she can't trust the authorities and tries to solve the case him/herself. Thankfully, Sophie has the brains to tell her CIA contact and a police detective what she knows, which turns out to be quite a lot. (Then, of course, it's hard not to suspect that her trust may be misplaced.) She is accosted by Vasiliev at the reception. He wants some information that Nick had about drilling in Abadistan, the former Soviet republic. He doesn't believe that Sophie doesn't have it. Then Sophie overhears a Russian and an American talk about what she thinks is a plot to kill Attar. Somewhere in all this may be the answer to why Nick has disappeared and why, she assumes, he is being framed for the deaths of his boss and another CIA agent.

There's a lot of stuff happening in the book, but Crosby moves the action along admirably, thus making the plot more apprehensible. Multiple Exposure is a variation on the woman-in-jeopardy-through-no-fault-of-her-own theme, but Crosby gives it a fresh look. She gives us the bare necessities of photography, the oil business, and the suspected Russian state of affairs, but enough detail to make the story interesting, a fine balancing act overall. This was enjoyable, easy reading.

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