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Crescent Blues Book ViewsThree moonsSt. Martin's Minotaur (Hardback),
ISBN: 0-312-20386-1
Patricia Kastner, owner of Minneapolis's derelict Winter Garden Hotel, dreams of restoring the hotel's ruined splendor and raking in a splendid profit. Consider it the mystery equivalent of counting her chickens before they hatch. True to form, instead of finding an easy road to riches, Patricia finds the body of Col. Jeffrey Chapel, USMC Ret., in the hotel's non-operational elevator shaft.  

Book: Ellen Hart,  Hunting The WitchTo make matters worse, Patricia and her architect, Eddie Flynn, may have been the last people to see the colonel alive -- and the circumstances of their last meeting might strike the police as less than congenial. Patricia and Eddie sought to persuade Chapel, chief financial officer of the Haymaker Club (a group of wealthy individuals who donate five percent of their income to do charitable work), to provide the financial backing needed to rehab the hotel into a deluxe retirement facility. 

Recovering from a near-fatal head injury at Dr. Julia Martinsen's home in Grand Rapids, Minn., restaurateur Jane Lawless overhears a series of threatening messages left on Julia's answering machine. Violent words escalate to violent deeds when someone breaks into Julia's house seeking her patients' medical records.  

Book: Ellen Hart, Wicked GamesAlthough the unknown intruder threatens the temporarily disabled Jane, he or she leaves empty-handed. Nevertheless, the encounter devastates Jane, who ended an earlier affair with Julia over Julia's obsessive secretiveness. To make matters worse, Julia vanishes shortly after Chapel's wife Brenna appears on Julia's doorstep, demanding to know what's in Chapel's medical records.  

Jane, left fearful and bereft by these incidents and Julia's desertion, flees to her restaurant and the waiting arms of Patricia, who wants advice on refitting the Winter Garden's restaurant. But Brenna soon follows and tries to pressure Jane into revealing Julia's whereabouts. When Jane finally convinces Brenna that she doesn't know what happened to the doctor, Brenna surprises Jane by requesting the restaurateur's help as an investigator. 

Brenna has received faxed blackmail threats alleging that her late husband was a homosexual. In one of the funniest passages in the book, Brenna glibly assumes Jane's sexual orientation gives her automatic access to all the secrets of the gay community: who's in, who's outed, and who might want to threaten the late colonel's reputation. 

Jane knows better, but she finds herself involved, despite her better judgment. Who murdered Jeffrey Chapel? Was he gay? Where is Julia, what is her secret, and who's following Jane? To save herself, Jane must answer these questions and more before the book's explosive and, in places, amusing ending.  

This complex Jane Lawless mystery combines the elements of a high-stakes suspense novel and a cottage cozy with an agenda. In Hunting the Witch, Hart seeks to explore the boundaries of American prejudice and the emotional, physical and monetary dangers of announcing alternative sexual preferences. Depending on the handling, such a mix can titillate and intrigue, or provide a recipe for disaster. Here, Hart's soufflé of murder and ideas more than rises to the occasion, but the dish may not be to everyone's taste. 

Suzanne Frisbee

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