Upscale restaurateur Jane, who’s gay, has an ex-husband she thought was gay but isn’t, really. If you think that’s a good premise for a mystery novel, just wait til you read The Cruel Ever After, which has all these twists and turns and many more besides.
Cruel is Ellen Hart’s 18th Jane Lawless mystery, and those familiar with her work will respond to the returning characters: best friend and cohort Cordelia, she of the flamboyant opinions and equally flamboyant outfits; Julia, Jane’s ex-girlfriend, a doctor of oncology who’d dearly like to reignite her relationship with Jane; Jane’s brother, Peter and his family. But newcomers to the series can jump right in and quickly get familiar with the territory. The author has conveniently provided a cast of characters at the front of the book, and has a knack for catching you up on past history without becoming dull or repetitive.
Chess, Jane’s ex-husband (or is he?) is on the scene with a dead body, plus he’s trying to finagle the sale of the Winged Bull of Nimrud, a priceless golden statue stolen from the Baghdad Museum in Iraq during the invasion by U.S. forces, and which is now in his hands—or is it? Chess arrives on Jane’s doorstep, needing a temporary place to stay while simultaneously fending off and staying in the good graces of Irina, a curator of antiquities who is complicit in the pending sale of the stolen artifact. After the gallery owner (Irina’s mother) becomes the second dead body to surface, the plot escalates into a tangled and intriguing web of layered lies and subterfuge. To say that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, page by page, is to put it mildly.
Jane, suddenly beset by a street attack and some shady-looking followers, consults her friend, private investigator A.J. Nolan, who appears to be one of the few cool heads to get a handle on the emerging mayhem. Also keeping an eye on the proceedings is an eccentric preacher named Lee, who unaccountably joins in the action.
When someone near and dear to Jane is kidnapped, we’re close to reaching the final outcome of this complex and exciting story. Hart is skilled at giving us characters of interest and spark, and she deftly tidies up the loose ends into a satisfying pattern in this accomplished and expertly crafted page-turner.