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American/Cozy Mysteries

A Picture of Guilt, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95/Berkley Prime Crime, $6.50.

A Picture of Guilt by Libby Fischer Hellman Poisoned Pen Hardcover

Berkley Prime Crime Paperback
This book should be available when Libby is here to sign, but if not, you can make do with her very fine first novel, An Eye for Murder. This one takes off where the first one left off, and it's tighter and the plot is more jet propelled than the first. The focus is still on single parent/independent film maker (she makes films for corporations) Ellie Foreman, and Ellie is really a wonderful character. In the first two books she's drawn into crimes in a believable way - in this one, she realizes she has tape of a man on trial for murder - and the man is in a totally different place than where the murder happened. She feels she has to come forward, and it puts everything into motion when she testifies at the man's trial. When several other people connected with the case turn up dead, a spooked Ellie seeks a mob connection (did I mention this series is set in Chicago?) and she, in turn, is approached by the FBI.

Her working life begins to disintegrate when no-one will hire her after the trial - other corporations are afraid she'll release footage of their corporate videos. Her personal life takes a turn for the worse as well as she runs into trouble with both her teenage daughter and her boyfriend (the trouble with her boyfriend may make you want to smack her), and the vortex of events that sweep her along suck you in as a reader as well - this is a book that's hard to put down. It's packed with lots of interesting stuff about film making, about Chicago's water supply, about raising a teenager, even stuff about radio frequencies. Hellmann certainly owes a debt to fellow Chicagoans Sara Paretsky (complex plotting) and Barbara D'Amato (excellent research) - but she's the brash young thing making this formula new again. The careful detail and attention to plot, as well as the very compelling main character, make these mysteries a standout, and I can't wait for the next book - especially if the writing keeps improving exponentially with each installment.

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