"The Cruel Ever After" by Ellen Hart
Minotaur, 320 pp., $25.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
Oh, beware of ex-spouses when they drop in unexpectedly, after oh-so-many years.
Thus begins Jane Lawless's latest predicament (to put it lightly) in this eighteenth mystery featuring the Minneapolis restaurateur.
It's bad enough for Jane that the circumstances surrounding her brief and only matrimonial foray are highly unusual and laden with her regrets, but they are laced with surprises yet to surface.
Also, within one week's time, the lives of Jane, her father, her brother and sister-in-law, her niece, her former lover, and her best bud are all pitched asunder by the charming, handsome, lying Chess Garrity.
Chess, an antiquities dealer who divides his time between Turkey and Amsterdam, is dealing in loot that was plundered from the Baghdad Museum during the confusion (again, to put it lightly) surrounding the U.S. invasion.
His prize of prizes is a golden statue of a winged bull; however, he's being pursued by a panoply of personages who believe the bull belongs back in Baghdad.
Not surprising, then, that Chess finds himself at the scene of two murders within a short while of his return to the Twin Cities.
Therefore, he's fast upon Jane's doorstep, seeking solace and refuge while dragging her into a maelstrom of skullduggery.
As ever, author Ellen Hart presents first-rate depictions of her locales and her returning characters. The theatrically oversized-in-every-respect Cordelia Thorne-- Jane's aforementioned best bud-- steals the show, as well she would have it.
An appealing homage to Dashiell Hammett's "The Maltese Falcon" underscores the bountiful action, which also includes a revelatory scene involving Chess's girlfriend that would made Alfred Hitchcock proud.
Now that Jane's P.I. friend, A.J. Nolan, has encountered a startling turn of events while watching her back on this case, it would be a good time for Hart's protagonist to place her restaurant concerns on the back burner and become a fuller-fledged investigator.
Cordelia stands at the ready, with plaid coat and pipe.
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