The Cruel Ever After
by Ellen Hart
A Minotar (St. Martin’s Press)
2010 release. Hard cover, 320 pgs.
This, Hart’s nineteenth Jane Lawless mystery, is probably the darkest and most shocking of the series. Difficult to read it is chock full of, painful, difficult relationships and actions. The extensive cast of characters, many of whom fans will have met before, are almost all revealed to have seriously dangerous dark sides. And even when those troublesome and even illegal dimensions of their characters are revealed and confronted by other individuals in the book, they persist in their ways, ways that sometimes tread close to the abyss.
The shocks begin very early when Lawless’s former husband, a man she hasn’t seen for twenty years, appears in Minneapolis. Not only are we more than a little surprised to discover that Jane was married many years ago, she is upset by his appearance, supposedly ‘simply for old times sake.’ It becomes quickly apparent that Chester Garrity, one of the most facile liars and con men you’ll ever meet, has a specific personal agenda. Garrity is a user of anybody and everybody within reach. That he is such, should, it seems to this reader, to be more apparent to Jane than appears to be the case.
That Garrity is also fairly incompetent also becomes obvious. Part of the tragedy is that his incompetence visits appalling harm on the people around him. Almost immediately plans go awry and spiral out of control. Murder results. Garrity demonstrates such a high level of impotence in the face of disaster that it is hard to believe he has managed to stay alive and out of prison for this long.
At roughly the same time that Garrity begins his ill-managed plan to sell antiquities of questionable provenance, a lethal cabal of shadowy vigilantes makes its presence known by murdering a popular gallery owner. Is there a link here? Of course there is, but readers will require almost infinite patience to figure out the links and resolve the tangle of threads and relationships. Patience is particularly important in the first half of the book. After that, with the background and setup in place, the action and the pace pick up. Logic takes firm hold and as the complications and resolutions of the many plot lines become clearer, the author’s grip on her story becomes firmer. The second half of the novel as revelation bangs in on top of revelation and explanation explodes, is all vintage Hart, an excellent writer who is almost always in full command of her work.
There were times however, when I wanted to scream at Jane Lawless, and wondered who was really managing that usually incisive and clever mind.