Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Review: Sweet Poison by Ellen Hart

Ms. Hart was most generous in sending me an early copy of her newest book, Sweet Poison, sixteenth in the popular Jane Lawless series and for that I profusely thank her.

Minneapolis restaurateur, Jane Lawless, is helping out her father, Ray Lawless, defense lawyer now gubernatorial candidate, at his campaign headquarters when she learns his plane had to make an emergency landing.Jane is frantic until she finally gets to talk to him. Although she has a feeling that he is holding something back, she is just relieved he is okay. Early on, Hart cleverly sets the stage for suspense.

At the outset, the reader is introduced to a host of characters, some who had previous dealings with Ray when he was a defense attorney, a lot of whom are not happy with the amount of felons he got off with light sentences. One of the campaign volunteers is murdered in similarly eerie circumstances as the crime allegedly committed by one Corey Hodge nine years previously. Coincidentally, Ray Lawless was his attorney and got him off with what many thought a too light sentence. While Jane is busy with her successful restaurant she still finds time to look into the murder along with her P.I. friend, Nolan, and long time friend ,Cordelia.

Along with the murder investigation are several gay romantic subplots. When past lovers show up, the story line deepens and makes for more complexity. Hart does such a wonderful job of characterization, the reader feels the anguish of the lovers as they try to resolve many relationship issues making it easy to empathize with them. With insightful dialogue and witty repartee, the reader gets a good feel for the characters’ personalities, their self doubts and even doubts about their respective partners. Not all is as it seems. These richly portrayed subplots not only enhance the mystery, but they are good stories in themselves. When Jane’s girlfriend , Kenzie, is attacked in the same way as the murder victim, the motives now are numerous. Was the murder politically motivated, or was it jealousy with a little revengeful obsession thrown in?

Hart writes a really tight plot, carefully crafted with a lot of red herrings, clues and teeming with motives. The story is well paced with a good progression towards the very surprising denouement. The characters are plausible and seem to come alive with every page. There are so many elements to this story along with a multi twists and turns mystery, the reader will be enthralled until the end. I defy the reader to guess who “dunnit”.

I think this is one of Hart’s more edgier mysteries. A lot of series seem to become stale after a few books, but not so with Hart. In fact, she just keeps getting better and better. If you have not read any of the previous Jane Lawless series, this is a stand alone mystery but after you read this one, you will definitely want to go back and read more. Ellen hart is also the author of the enjoyable Sophie Greenway series. Highly recommended.

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