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.

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