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Merchant of Venus
by Ellen Hart
ISBN 0312289057 / 9780312289058 / 0-312-28905-7
Publisher Minotaur Books
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Jane Lawless has just broken up with her lover and is barely recovered from injuries suffered in her last adventure (Hunting the Witch), but that doesn't stop her from accompanying her pal Cordelia to the rundown but still magnificent Connecticut estate known as Innishannon. It is there that Cordelia's estranged sister, actress Octavia Thorne, is about to marry the reclusive but legendary movie director Roland Lester. Cordelia may be her best friend, but Lawless, the Minneapolis restaurateur-sleuth who's starred in several Ellen Hart cozies, has no idea why the Thorne sisters have been strangers to each other since their mother's death eight years before. And Cordelia herself is just as baffled by Octavia's reasons for marrying the 80- year-old Lester.
A mansion full of picaresque characters keeps the reader guessing after first Lester and then the young documentary producer who's on hand to chronicle the wedding (and, incidentally, to solve the mystery of her own grandfather's murder in the long-ago Hollywood days when he and Lester knew each other) are murdered. Most of the guests had a motive: Gracie, the young Internet entrepreneur whose plans to turn Innishannon into a huge theme park--Gracieland--will be drastically reduced if Olivia inherits after she marries Lester; Verna Lange, the faded but still glamorous actress who costarred with Lew Wallace in Roland Lester's greatest hits back in the '50s; Christian Wallace, Lew's son and Gracie's lover; and Hiram Thorne, Octavia and Cordelia's father, who knows a secret about his daughter's fiancÚ that may derail the couple's plans.
This deft, well-written mystery is light on blood and gore but heavy on Hollywood history and gossip. Did you know that Clark Gable's leading ladies hated to kiss him because of his denture breath? Hart has done her homework and turned in another smart, lively page-turner that will delight her many fans and probably win her some new ones, especially those who enjoy tales of Tinseltown in its heyday. --Jane Adams [via]