Hunting the Witch

Reviewed by Andy Smart

Hunting the Witch is a departure in style for Ellen Hart. Whereas the earlier Jane Lawless books were very much classic mystery novels where the point was to decide who had committed the crime from the available suspects, this one has much darker overtones and the psychological aspects of the plot are more central than the solving of the crime. This is not to say it is not a superb book, it is; just that it 'feels' very different to her earlier work.

Restaurant owning sleuth Jane Lawless, still traumatised both physically and mentally from an assault, becomes involved in the murder of an ex-marine businessman at the request of his widow. It transpires that he was a deeply closeted homosexual who was being blackmailed (along with several others); I don't think I'm giving away any vital plot information by telling you that. The hotel renovation with which he is involved is being managed by Patricia Kastner who has designs on Jane, and he was a patient of her (ex?) lover Julia.

The main driving force behind the plot is not really the murder at all - it is Jane's attempt to both recover from the attack and come to terms with her feelings for these two very different women; both of whom desire a relationship with her. There is no doubt that Kastner is a scheming manipulative little bitch (ok, so I'm allowed my prejudices here, I just don't like her), but Julia has also systematically lied to Jane and kept vital aspects of her life a secret from her. Jane prizes trustworthiness and honesty in her friends, and the level to which she has not received this from Julia is an (almost?) insurmountable barrier between them. The fact that these secrets will eventually lead both of them into extreme danger is central to the plot. Alongside this is a subplot about the risks and reasons for remaining firmly in the closet, and the reactions of the key characters to this.

As a long term reader of the Jane Lawless novels, I found this book very unsettling, though beyond doubt it is excellent. This stems from the fact that in the previous books Jane is stable and in control of herself whereas in this novel she is sick, indecisive and shows signs of alcohol abuse. She is a woman on the edge and shows little of the self-control of previous books. It will be interesting to see how author Ellen Hart develops these themes in future books. As always I refuse to divulge who did it, but in addition I also refuse to tell you if Jane picks Julia or Patricia.

This is a superb book and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

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