Plain Jane

Lesbian fiction author Ellen Hart loses her way with latest Jane Lawless mystery, ‘Lost Women’

The Lost Women of Lost Lake, by Ellen Hart. Minotaur Press (2011), $26, 320 pp.

Cordelia Thorn figured she would just lend a quick hand. Tessa Cornell, Cornelia’s old friend in the northern Minnesota ’burg of Lost Lake, had taken a tumble and hurt her leg. Tessa was directing the community play, so somebody needed to finish the job while she was healing; Cornelia volunteered, and invited her best friend, Jane Lawless, along. Jane, a restaurateur and part-time private investigator, was still mourning the death of her long-time partner; a trip would do her good.

Tessa was happy to have help with the play, but she didn’t need any company — definitely not some P.I. wannabe.

Jonah Ivorsen hated moving, so when he decided to hitchhike from St. Louis to Lost Lake, he was sure his aunt Jill and Jill’s wife, Tessa, would let him stay with them. But then a body was discovered and another one followed it fast. The authorities were zeroing in on a mysterious fire, and Tessa was obviously lying to everybody. Can Jane Lawless sort things out before someone else dies?

Oh, how I love books with Jane Lawless in them! Jane is an unlikely heroine and reluctant private eye who doesn’t seem to want her hobby to turn into work, yet there’s a will-she-make-it-permanent thread in this book that’s satisfactorily solved. There’s also a possible romance angle that slyly teases readers.

But as much as I love Ellen Hart’s main character, the supporting cast in The Lost Women of Lost Lake almost all need to take a dive. I had to work to keep my eyes from rolling, not only because of the cliché peripheral characters but also for the cliché things they say. Triteness definitely taints this otherwise fine mystery.

Fans of the Jane Lawless series should be able to overlook these faults, but if you’re not already a fan, start with another book. For you, The Lost Women of Lost Lake will not be looked upon swimmingly.

— Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 25, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

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—  John Wright