‘The Cruel Ever After’
by Ellen Hart
December 2010, Minotaur Books $24.99 / $29.99 Canada, 320 pages

But first, he needs to stop drinking. That was obvious to Chess as he disentangled himself from Melvin Dial’s back porch on a sunny Minnesota morning. Though his head was pounding, the night of poker and booze would be worth every minute if Dial bought the ancient bull statue that Chess had to sell.

But that would never happen. Making his way through the house, Chess found himself staring at the corpse of Melvin Dial.

Stunned and panicky, Chess looked up his old friend, Jane Lawless. He needed someplace to think, and Jane was goodhearted and discreet.

Years ago, they were married briefly, just long enough for Chess to get his inheritance. It was a union meant only for money, so when Chess pocketed the cash, he gave Jane a portion and they split amiably. Jane set herself up with a restaurant in downtown St. Paul, and since it wasn’t exactly a love match — she was gay and she’d assumed Chess was, too — she decided to keep the whole thing secret.

But Chess wasn’t gay; in fact, he was having an affair with a married woman.

He and Irena Nelson had met in Istanbul and had a quick, urgent fling. Chess professed love and Irena agreed to help him sell the antiquities he had in his possession, all stolen from the Baghdad Museum. Irena’s mother owned Morgana Beck Gallery of Antiquities. Getting rid of ancient Iraqi pieces wouldn’t be difficult.
But Chess never counted on anybody getting killed, and Irena was acting weird. So when she “lost” the golden bull statue, and three guys started stalking Jane, Chess knew it was time to take the ancient bull by the horns…

When a book starts out with a lengthy cast of characters, pay attention: In “The Cruel Ever After,” you’re going to need that list.

The mystery is the latest in Hart’s Jane Lawless series. A five-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for best lesbian mystery, she has been dubbed “the gay Agatha Christie.”

Hart packs a good number of people in this Jane Lawless mystery, which could be discombobulating if some of them didn’t die off (it is a mystery, right?). Though there are times when overpopulation might tempt you to quit this book, the good news is that the remaining characters move this story along nicely through a few decent surprises to a satisfying ending. Just keep the cast list handy, that’s all.

If you’ve been saving your whodunit hunger for just the right book, try this one.


Top photo: A five-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for best lesbian mystery, Ellen Hart returns with ‘The Cruel Ever After.’ (Publicity photo)

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