It's no secret I'm a huge Ellen Hart fan, and think she's seriously underrated and underappreciated. She has the same writing chops that are shared by authors as diverse as Margaret Maron, Julia Spencer-Fleming and Donna Andrews, and her latest novel is a continuation of her abilities to delineate character while at the same time telling a complicated, clever and ultimately traditional mystery story. If you are a fan of this kind of writing it's a mistake to miss out on any of the books in this series — a real standout is The Iron Girl, one of my favorite mysteries of all time. This new installment is especially timely as it's an election story, and it truly seems to reflect the zeitgeist of the present election.
Jane's father, Ray, is running for Governor, something announced in the last book, The Mortal Groove. Jane is caught up in the campaign, in her two restaurants, and in her increasingly complicated relationship with her partner Kenzie. In most of the other books (I say most, not all) Jane has been the sensible center. In this installment she's more confused and perversely unaware of her partner's feelings than in many of the others. To put it more baldly, her over-the-top friend Cordelia actually seems like the voice of reason. But I think Hart sets up a situation that while it relates to the central mystery, is also a real life one: how to balance work and family. Let's just say Jane hasn't found that balance.
While I'm talking here about the characters — at this point, Jane is practically a real person for me — there's also a good, and pretty creepy mystery here. There's a lot of obsessive behavior going on, not just with one character, but with several. The murder at the center involves the gruesome death of one of Ray's campaign workers, someone the Lawless family had considered a friend. Since it's eerily similar to the rape several years ago for which Jane's cleaning lady's nephew was convicted, the police instantly think this man, Corey Hodge, is the culprit. His aunt asks Jane to look into it.
At the other heart of the story is Corey's obsession with his former girlfriend; a recovering gay minister's obsession with his attacker; and Jane's own former girlfriend, Julia's, obsession with her. It's balanced by examples of what a healthy relationship — Jane and Kenzie's — might be like. This is a fairly dark, and very thoughtful novel — for Lawless fans, a can't miss; for newbies to Hart, a treat.
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