Abandoned by her acting troupe and bereft of any meaningful funds, the opening of David Ahern’s fifth Madame Tulip adventure finds the indominable Derry O’Donnell bartering her skills for room, board, and a little breathing room while she figures out her next move. As her wise and mysterious alter ego, Madame Tulip, Derry reads fortunes for the good people of the small, costal community where she has been stranded, but the more fortunes she reads, and the more people she meets, the deeper Derry is drawn into the intrigue that haunts the town. A stonemason was killed in a terrible accident, a mysterious billionaire has died and left his fortune and property to his daughter rather than his widow, no one is exactly who they say they are, everyone has a motive to lie, and the more Derry tries to distance herself from the whole situation, the more entangled she gets.
There are many authors who would lean heavily into the vaguely supernatural elements of Derry O’Donnell’s character. As the daughter of the seventh son of the seventh son, she does have some legitimate abilities as a fortune teller, but Ahern is careful to keep his protagonist from relying on her preternatural skills too much. Yes, Madame Tulip is a lynchpin to the story, but it’s Derry who makes the discoveries, unravels the mystery, and ultimately wins the day.
This is Ahern’s fifth outing with Derry and the Madame, but Madame Tulip and the Rainbow’s End stands nicely on its own. There are probably some character relationships that would be more nuanced if the reader had four other books worth of backstory to deepen them, but for the most part Ahern is deft in delivering the necessary context without obvious plot dumps. The relationship between Derry’s parents, an eccentric artist and a sharp art dealer who have a divorce, a child, and an annual painting quota keeping them in each other’s lives, was a particular gem that I enjoyed seeing sprinkled throughout the novel. Again, four books worth of previous story probably would have added some depth to those interactions, but as it stands you can still get plenty of enjoyment out of Jacko and Vanessa without them.
Clever, warm, and way more wrapped up in crypto currency than I think anyone was expecting, Madame Tulip and the Rainbow’s End is a fun read from an author who knows the importance of a judicious hand when it comes to backfill, and the power of a good setting. I can’t tell you how many more Madame Tulips Ahern has under his hat, but if they all read this smooth, this reviewer will happily read again.