Monday, March 08, 2010


By Libby Fischer Hellmann
Poisoned Pen Press
Hard Cover, 301 pages, $24.95
ISBN 1-59058-185-7
Released, 2005

The fourth Ellie Foreman adventure demonstrates that the author knows what she’d doing. One of the realities of life in traditional mysteries featuring protagonists who are not members of professional law enforcement, is that even cops don’t deal with murder all that often. There are, however, all sorts of amateur detectives who jump right in as the bodies fall all around. Fischer Hellmann avoids that tired construct by placing her video producer, Ellie Foreman, in a variety of normal situations with abnormal consequences. Keeps thing fresh and interesting.

What’s more, as in this case, Ellie Foreman doesn’t just jump in when a woman sitting nearby at a highway rest stop is abruptly murdered at a distance from an unseen location. That’s intriguing enough, but Ellie wisely tells her story to the responding cops and leaves. But then the slain woman’s family tracks Ellie down and importunes her to help find the killer. Another death ensues and Foreman is drawn deeper into a different part of the scene where she is already legitimately producing a video for an upscale client.

The locale of the novel is the seriously upscale Lake Geneva resort area north of Chicago. Long known for its history of attracting the wealthy and the questionable who have homes around the lake, a Playboy Nightclub, and of course, all those service personnel who are so necessary to the lifestyle of the rich and infamous.

The author nicely sets up an interesting mix of characters from high and low classes and the conflicts among them that sometimes arise. But this is not “Upstairs and Downstairs,” genteel and very British as that television series was. This story is American to the core and Ellie Foreman soon finds herself knee-deep in family secrets, along with old and new animosities. Tension rises gently but steadily though the pages and the mystery has some nice twists and turns. As with all her novels, Hellmann has a good ear for dialogue and a finely focused eye for the settings of her books.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Poltical Thriller scores well

The Fallen
By Mark Terry
ISBN: 978-193351575-5
Hard Cover from Oceanview Press
279 pages, April, 2010

The Fallen of the title of this intense political thriller are a cult-like group of professional spies, highly trained military black ops types and upper-level espionage operatives. They represent nearly all the major and some smaller governments around the world. These men have been coerced, or led into betraying their nations and the rest of the world. Now a group has focused on a meeting of twenty world leaders at the G8 summit. The initiation of their plan to highjack the meeting and grab many of the world’s top leaders begins with a series of carefully complex and precise actions. These actions have a tendency to hype the level of tension in the early part of the novel at a rapid rate.

The difficulty of this is that by the time the plot moves into its negotiation phase and the world leaders begin to formulate push-back operations, the tension tends to level off somewhat in the midsection of the novel. One way the author has fought this tendency is by breaking the book into unusually brief sections. There are eighty-eight chapters in span of 286 pages. Mostly, it works.

The writing is crisp, the dialogue and narrative littered with the jargon of high-tech electronics and military ops which adds to the atmosphere. The book is packed with action and conflicts especially among the US political and military leaders attempting to sort out and resolve the situation. An undercover asset, the hero or protagonist of the novel is the most fully developed character and he satisfactorily fills his role. An enjoyable read well-centered in the modern political thriller genre.

I note that a copy of the book was supplied at no cost.

Monday, March 01, 2010


Scottoline may have written this novel from the heart, and out of personal experience. The reader may experience more verisimilitude as a result, but that does not, nor should it, relieve the author of the obligation to edit. The novel is overlong, in what may be a misguided attempt to fool readers into believing they're getting a better deal for their money.

Good stories should not be required to support more side trips than are necessary. Nevertheless, long though it may be, this is a cracking good story, and for the most part well told. Bennie Rosato is a prominent, successful, criminal attorney who runs her own law firm in Philadelphia. It is a firm of women lawyers, some of whom come with considerable family baggage. Rosato is not excluded. She never had the standard nuclear family, her father apparently split long before Bennie had any real memories of him. Her mother is dying in a nursing home and Bennie has no one with whom to share that burden.

With only a week to go before the trial starts, drug dealer Alice Connolly, a woman accused of murdering her cop-lover, demands a new lawyer, specifically, the woman she claims is her twin sister, Bennie Rosato. Rosato has always known she was an only child. When Rosato meets with Connolly, loudly claiming a frame-up by the Philadelphia PD, she learns to her considerable and additional consternation that Connolly has been guided to the decision to contact Bennie, by an old man who claims to be the women's father. This can only be the case, of course, if Connolly is in fact, Bennie's sister.

Connolly is one of the most interesting characters in he book. Street-wise, tough as nails and amply capable of murder, her first and only priority is to use this possible connection with Bennie Rosato to get off and out from under the death penalty that goes with conviction.

Rosato, still wondering after many years of self-examination, what her family might have been, is forced by circumstances to renew the old questions and try to find the man claiming to be her father. Scottoline, a good writer, expertly weaves into the book, the story of the cloying, overly protective family of one of her associates as stark contrast to her own fragmented family. But having established her context and parameters, it's almost as if the author wants to be sure everyone who reads Mistaken Identity gets it. Readers will get it too.

The resolution, to family questions, to Connolly's claim of a frame and the murder trial itself, are all resolved in interesting ways and the book is ultimately satisfying. For fans of this author, Mistaken Identity will be a must read.