Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mystery Book Review: The Mirror and the Mask by Ellen Hart

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The Mirror and the Mask by Ellen Hart. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The Mirror and the Mask by Ellen Hart

by
A Jane Lawless Mystery

St. Martin's Minotaur (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0-312-37527-1 (0312375271)
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-37527-0 (9780312375270)
Publication Date: November 2009
List Price: $25.99

Review: Jane Lawless gets to practice her investigative skills when a young woman arrives in Minneapolis looking for her long-lost stepfather and asks for her help in finding him in The Mirror and the Mask, the 17th mystery in this series by Ellen Hart.

Jane soon discovers, however, that the woman, Annie Archer, has a far more mysterious past than her stepfather Jack Bowman, who Jane learns is a prosperous real estate developer in the area. The case becomes even more complicated when Jack's current wife, who was having an affair with a co-worker, tumbles down a flight of stairs at home, and dies. Jane discovers that Jack's former wife, Annie's mother, also died under suspicious circumstances. Did Jack kill both his wives? And does Annie suspect his involvement in her mother's death, and is looking for him to exact some sort of revenge?

The cleverly, and appropriately, titled The Mirror and the Mask is a wonderfully crafted character study, with intertwining interpersonal relationships that are not readily untangled. True, it is also a murder mystery, but this aspect of the story is clearly secondary to the elaborate web of Annie's past history and current situation. The reader knows Annie is clearly lying to Jane, and Jane knows she's lying to her, but to what end? Jane muses at one point, "Humans were never simple. Or logical. And there was never just one. Of anyone." The plot twists are unexpected, the final resolution somewhat less so.

Jane's friend Cordelia also plays a significant role here, but it is the subplot involving her niece Hattie that offers a striking and memorable familial contrast to the story. It's quite charming, and a rewarding way to end a most satisfying novel.

Special thanks to St. Martin's Minotaur for providing a copy of The Mirror and the Mask for this review.

Review Copyright © 2010 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): Minneapolis restaurateur Jane Lawless is at crossroads. The rough economy has put her plans for a third restaurant on hold, and her long distance romance is on the rocks and quite possibly unsalvageable. Unsure of what to do next, she takes her good friend A. J. Nolan up on his standing offer to take her on as a private investigator.

While still in training, her first job seems simple enough. All she had to do is find Annie Archer's stepfather. Jane tracks down a likely match -- a man who has made a small fortune in real estate. While she's happy to close her first case, she finds it hard to reconcile the difference between PI work -- finding what people pay you to find -- and uncovering the truth, the whole truth, especially when clues in this seemingly simple case point to more threatening family secrets than where Annie's father has been hiding out.

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