Easy Innocence, Libby Fischer Hellman, Bleak House Books, Cloth, $24.95; Paper, $14.95.
Libby Hellman made a big splash with her first book, An Eye for Murder, and has now moved away from the original series character she introduced in that book, Ellie Foreman, to a sidebar character she introduced in her last one, Georgia Davis. Georgia Davis is an ex-cop, now P.I., working the swanky Northshore of Chicago. The northern suburbs of Chicago are some of the wealthiest in the nation, and Hellman proves very deft at exposing the dark underbelly of the rich and privileged. The book begins with several disturbing vignettes: the first is from the point of view of a young prostitute; the second, from the point of view of a peeping Tom in the park; and the third, a description of the brutal death of a young girl in the same park. The peeping Tom has been charged with the young girl's death but Georgia is hired by the man's sister to find out if he's really guilty. The sister, of course, is sure of his innocence. As Georgia goes to work on this case - her first one as a P.I. that's not a routine skip trace or divorce discovery - she gets drawn into the lives of the young people who are involved. The young victim in the park, Sara Long, was found with a bucket on her head, bludgeoned through the bucket with a baseball bat. Since the peeping Tom in question was discovered holding the bat, he seems like the obvious choice for the killer but as Georgia digs a bit, she finds everything is not what it seems.
The peeping Tom - Cam Jordan - is a developmentally disabled young man who lives with his sister. He has the awareness of a 5 or 6 year old. His sister says that while his behavior is sometimes inappropriate, he's never been violent and she's sure he wasn't violent this time. Georgia looks a little more and finds that the incident in the park seems suspiciously like a recent hazing incident (much like one made famous on the news over the past few years, where young girls threw unspeakable things on each other as a form of horrible initiation). And as Georgia keeps digging, she also uncovers a prostitution ring. The real strength of this book is the North Shore setting, which Hellman (who lives there herself) has pitch perfect. The students involved go to a school Hellman calls Newfield, but it's obviously based on New Trier, a large and well known public school outside Chicago, known to be as rigorous as any private school. Any school as big as New Trier (or Newfield) of course has problems and many of them lie in the jockeying for social status that is often exacerbated in a wealthy community.
The suspense in this book is character based - you can probably figure out where Hellman is going in terms of a resolution - but it's the journey she takes to get there that's interesting. I hope this won't be the last outing for the smart and capable Georgia Davis.
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