Ellen Hart is one of my favourite authors, and Jane Lawless one of my favourite characters. In Vital Lies Jane, along with her irrepressible and deeply theatrical comrade Cordelia, go to spend the Christmas period at a guest house run by her old friend Leigh. As perhaps you might expect things soon take a turn for the worse with death and accident spoiling things for everybody. Jane is persuaded to investigate and soon she is trying to unravel the secrets which people have bought to the house from many years previously.
The book is actually part of what the cover refers to as 'the English country-house tradition', in that a number of people of all types are collected together in a building and one of them is the murderer. While this is a very long established convention in the detective genre this is not to say it doesn't work, it does or people would have stopped using it. Hart uses it to great effect in this book, weaving the lives of her cast together to an eventual conclusion. To be fair it would be hard to solve the crime by means of the clues offered to you during the book without a lot of imaginative guesswork - but the book does not actually invite you to attempt a conclusion in many ways. The joy of the book is really in the characterisations and the way in which the many stories are drawn together to provide each individual in the book with some kind of closure, if not a happy ending.
Vital Lies is quite an early book in what is now a large series featuring this restaurateur detective and the writing seems not to be quite as assured, nor the personalities as well-developed, as in the very latest novels. This is not to suggest that the book is not excellent, it is and I found it hard to put down, but to suggest that reading it early on in your discovery of Ellen Hart's Jane Lawless series might be a good idea. If for no reason other than the fact that you won't know what has already happened to the people you are just meeting for the first time. All in all this is a very good book, I recommend it wholeheartedly.
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