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Book Author: Ellen Hart

THE GRAVE SOUL by Ellen Hart: Book Review

Jane Lawless is busy running the Lyme House restaurant in Minneapolis, so busy that her first impulse is to decline a case brought to her by her friend and former employee Guthrie Hewitt.  Jane has put a hold on her private investigations practice, but Guthrie has come to Jane because he’s worried about his girlfriend, Kira Adler.  He wants to propose to her on Christmas Eve, but a long-ago tragedy in her family has recently been giving her nightmares.

Nearly twenty years ago, when Kira was five, her mother fell to her death from the family porch.  After an investigation, the death was ruled an accident.  Now, on the eve of a visit to her grandmother’s home for the Thanksgiving holiday, Kira has another horrific dream.  She tells Guthrie that in all of them she is watching her mother being strangled; although she is a witness, she can never stop it.  The murder happens in various places with different murderers, but every one contains the same elements–her mother is strangled, she sees what’s happening, and she cannot prevent it.

Guthrie and Kira arrive at her grandmother’s house, with Guthrie trying to uncover the reason for Kira’s nightmares and fears.  He questions the various family members–her grandmother, father, two uncles and their wives–subtly, he thinks, but after his return home he receives a package with a note saying that what happened to Delia Adler will happen to him if he continues bothering the family.  In addition to the written message, there are several photos showing the splayed body of Delia lying at the edge of a deep, snow-filled ravine.

The Adlers are a rather odd family.  Kira’s widowed grandmother Evangeline is the matriarch, an elegant woman who seems to rule with an iron fist in a velvet glove.  Her two sons, Kevin and Douglas, still live near her.  Kevin, Kira’s father, never remarried after the death of his wife, and Douglas, who obviously has a drinking problem, lives a bitter, meager existence with his wife Laurie.  The only successful sibling appears to be their sister Hannah Adler, a physician who has chosen to remain single and, perhaps most importantly, to move away from her mother and brothers in New Dresden.

Guthrie again turns to Jane for help after his trip to Kira’s hometown, but once more she pleads her hectic schedule and tries to find another detective to investigate the Adlers.  When that fails, she reluctantly agrees to look into the matter, but only for a limited time, two days being all she’s able/willing to spend away from her restaurant.  A grateful Guthrie accepts that, and danger ensues.

The Grave Soul is, by my count, number twenty-three in the Jane Lawless series.  Obviously there’s a lot of backstory here, but you can easily start with this novel and then read the earlier books.  Ellen Hart has won the Lambda Award, called Lammys, five times for books that celebrate LGBT themes, but there is no lesbian theme in this book, and only a brief hint of gay relationships.  The Grave Soul is simply a well-written mystery, featuring a clever and resourceful heroine who happens to be gay, a compelling plot, and interesting supporting characters who add flavor to the novel.

You can read more about Ellen Hart at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.