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P.I.

Doubleback, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Bleak House Books; Hardcover, $24.95; Paperback, $14.95.

Doubleback by Libby Fischer Hellman (Cloth cover)


(Paperback)
Libby Hellman hit the ground running with her first Ellie Foreman novel, An Eye for Murder (2003). Since then Hellman has written four Ellie Foreman mysteries, and one, Easy Innocence, with another character, Georgia Davis, former cop turned P.I. Doubleback unites Ellie and Georgia in a shared adventure. Though Easy Innocence also includes Ellie, it's not a partnership like this novel is. I think it's an effective solution to the perennial issue of the amateur sleuth. Ellie Foreman is a video film maker in Chicago. This is not the same, obviously, as being a detective, so it makes sense a) for Ellie to be friends with Georgia, starting in another context; and b) for Georgia, an actual licensed P.I., to take the weight of the investigations on, with Ellie's help.

Much like author G.M Ford, who started with character Leo Waterman and then morphed into writing his darker books about Frank Corso, I think Hellman is following a similar path. Waterman and Corso are familiar with each other but eventually the books became all about Frank. I'm not sure if that's Hellman's plan, since the Ellie character serves as a good grounding for the books, but it seems like a possibility. I think loyal readers enjoy checking in with Ellie—I know I do—but Hellman's agenda in this novel seems to be more on the straightforward suspense side of things. She starts it off with a bang—a little girl, Molly Messenger, has been kidnaped, and one of Ellie's friends calls to ask her for help.

Molly's mother has been warned not to call the police, and Ellie calls Georgia in, but both women give the mother the same advice: call the police. She does so eventually, and three days later, the little girl is returned, safe and sound. When Georgia questions her friends on the force they say it wasn't really anything they did—the little girl just turned up. Matters become more complicated—and more tragic—when Molly's mother is killed in a car accident. Molly's father then hires Georgia both to keep Molly safe, and to find out what happened.

The more Georgia uncovers, the more a string of "accidental" deaths appear to be linked, and the more she looks, the more the whole thing seems to be tied to the bank where Molly's mother was in charge of the IT department. For Hellman, this is more of a straight up suspense novel than some of her other books, and it's definitely a page turner that takes the reader all over the North shore of Chicago down to a tiny town in Arizona. The desert setting and desolate nature of the town Georgia goes to investigate further is well drawn, as are the characters she finds there. This is a pretty dark novel in that it doesn't leave anyone left standing at the end of the book unscathed, and the future life of little Molly Messenger doesn't bear thinking about. This is also a book about straight up survival, and the lessons the reader might take from that message are many.

Slightly off to the side this time are the relationships Hellman has taken some trouble to flesh out in her earlier books between Ellie and her daughter and Ellie and her father, though both make appearances throughout the book. While I appreciate Georgia's expertise, I also appreciate the characters I've become fond of over now six novels. I'm interested to see where this series will head next, but it feels to me like Hellman has found a comfortable rhythm in her work.

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