The Maltese Parrot

The Aurelia has just docked in Valetta, Malta, and Alastair has scheduled a special, secluded stay with Patricia at a posh hotel. However, she has to handle a minor matter: deliver a coveted flash drive to a British spy who’ll be stationed at the bar of an exclusive gentleman’s club.

Say what?

The paraglider who landed on the Aurelia’s helipad as the ship left Athens popped up in Patricia’s suite and identified himself as Justin Metcalf-Howe, an agent in the service of HRH Queen Elizabeth II and on the run from Chinese spies. Referencing her reputation as a sleuth non pariel, he handed her a flash drive and requested she deliver it to a colleague in Valetta, because it holds a program able to reduce civilization to its knees in the wrong hands.

So, accompanied by her bibulous friend Lady Mary, who has returned to the Aurelia to drink her way through the last leg of the cruise, Patricia sets off for the club, only to be cornered near the ship’s limousines by a boorish family seeking their lost grandmother, who they’re certain has fallen victim to sex trafficking. Patricia helps them as much as she can, but the family is rudely ungrateful when she doesn’t locate Granny. As a result, she’s late for her rendezvous with the contact at the club.

Which doesn’t ultimately matter, because he’s stone-cold dead, an icepick buried in his ear, in a room surrounded by enemy agents determined to steal the flash drive.

Just as a Serbian man threatens her, Patricia hears a most welcome question: “May I be of assistance, Madam?” Jermaine has once again come to her rescue with his flying feet and hands. As the three escape to a nearby shop, Alastair and his security team find and accompany them to the police station, where the chief fails to intimidate Patricia, much to his consternation, and retaliates by jailing Jermaine for assault. Assured that the cruise line’s lawyer is on the case, Alastair persuades Patricia to begin their brief sojourn, which lasts until Patricia exits the shower in a negligee and finds herself facing two Algerian spies and the realization that Alastair has been kidnapped.

So begins one chase after another, as rival agents with a variety of accents pursue Patricia around the city and she attempts to focus on both human trafficking and Alastair’s kidnapping. The police are no help — the chief repeatedly promises to arrest her, especially after the flash drive sets one of their computers on fire, and gangsters are hot on her trail. However, with the help of her reliable posse, Patricia engineers ingenious solutions to all issues, even the grandmother’s disappearance.

Steve Higgs celebrates the penultimate novel in the Cruise Ship series by planting Patricia in her most challenging case yet. So … as soon as she’s back on board, what prompts Charlie to call her?

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