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by Libby Fischer Hellmann
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2003
313 pages
ISBN: 1590580737

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Ellie Foreman, the industrial video producer introduced in Hellmann's award-winning first novel, AN EYE FOR MURDER, is back and again caught up in a criminal investigation. Ellie doesn't go looking for trouble; she's a single mother trying to keep her business afloat, be there for her daughter and her widower father, and maybe even manage to maintain some semblance of a love live with David Linden, director of foreign currency trading for a Philadelphia bank. With their very different personalities, Ellie and David have found that geographic distance isn't the only problem in their relationship.

Ellie's business isn't doing well in the aftermath of 9-11. Business are tightening their belts and there isn't a lot of demand for her services. So when Ellie thinks she recognizes the face of man charged with murdering his girlfriend, she has time to remember where she might have seen him and to review the videotape that she thinks will provide him with an alibi. How could he have been murdering his girlfriend at the same time Ellie was inadvertently filming him on a bench several miles away from the crime scene?

Contrary to what Ellie expected, the lawyer representing Johnny Santoro, the accused murderer, isn't particularly impressed by the evidence Ellie presents him, although he does agree to call her as a witness at Johnny's trial. The lawyer then sits idly by when the prosecutor makes mincemeat of Ellie on the stand and Johnny is ultimately convicted. Her reputation in shatters (how dare the prosecutor suggest that she came forward only for the publicity?) and her business suffering because of it, Ellie has no choice but to find out what really happened to Johnny's girlfriend. Only by proving his innocence does Ellie see any hope of vindicating herself.

Ellie never imagines that looking into a murder everyone else considers solved could be risky, but Ellie has been wrong before and unfortunately she's wrong again. Soon after she starts talking to people about what happened the night Johnny's girlfriend was killed, Ellie realizes that she's being followed. Little does she suspect, though, that she may have as much to fear from law enforcement as from whatever criminals may be watching her. When more dead bodies start appearing in her wake, Ellie knows she has to see this through to the end.

Ellie is a particularly believable protagonist, warts and all. Sometimes prickly, but always principled, she's a pleasure to spend time with. Hellmann once again has made it convincing that this amateur would be involved in the investigation of a crime . . . and it's always a pleasure not to have to consciously suspend disbelief.

A PICTURE OF GUILT is a page-turner of a novel, with an ending even Ellie herself didn't see coming.

Reviewed by Susan Anderson, June 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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