The Mystery Writers of America recently bestowed the title of Grand Master upon Ellen Hart, author of the Jane Lawless and the Sophie Greenway mystery series. Grand Master is bestowed upon writers who have made outstanding contributions to the genre. My first introduction to Hart was when I happened upon Hart’s long running mystery series, stars Minneapolis restaurateur, Jane Lawless, on the shelf at my local public library. The amateur sleuth has languished in my TBR pile ever since. When I read about Hart’s literary distinction on Women and Words, last week, I put most of my other in-progress books aside and bought an Audible copy of the series first installment, Hallowed Murder (1989).
The series introduction finds Jane volunteering as an alumnae advisor at her old sorority house at the University of Minnesota. On a morning walk along the river, Jane and her longtime pal, Cordelia, stumble upon the drowned body of the sorority’s social chair, Allison Lord. The police readily dismiss the young woman’s death as a suicide, because in their dim view lesbians are all suicidal and otherwise loathsome creatures. Jane, however, believes that something foul is afoot and pursues a twisting road of secrets, prejudice, homophobia, loaded motives, and more, in order to learn the truth.
A few days prior to hearing about the award, I finally acted on my longstanding desire to learn how to play chess. Grand Master in mystery and in chess are two different things, but they do share commonalities. Both require plotting several moves ahead, taking into account as many outcomes as possible. As a new piece of potentially vital intel came into play in the story, I mentally moved another chess piece ahead. Sometimes a piece was removed from play; other times, a piece made an unexpected move. He did what? She spoke with so-and-so? Someone wasn’t where they said they’d be? Hmm… It was fun to try and figure out the murderer’s identity. I loved finding plausible motives for several characters, too. There are twenty-three additional novels in the series and many of them are available on audiobook.
I enjoyed Aimee Jolson’s narration. In Hallowed Murder, she adopts a straightforward style suited to Jane Lawless’s pragmatic personality and understated sense of humor. Even with a maelstrom of emotion (confusion, anger, fear, love, etc.) swirling around her, even when her own life comes into the culprit’s cross-hairs, Jane never loses her cool. Jolson also infuses her narration with subtle characterization of the sorority sisters and household staff. Cordelia, on the other hand, is a woman who abides no subtlety. There are a few minor points that, while not detracting from my enjoyment of the story and narration, could enhance the audiobook. I would like a beat more spacing between sections, to better differentiate a change of scene. Jane’s vocal nuances were underrepresented. Her formative years were spent in England with her American father and British mother. Later, in high school, Jane moved to the United States, remaining a resident afterwards. I did not detect the accent blend, though it is mentioned early on in the novel.
This has nothing to do with the storytelling or narration, but I’ve never listened to an audiobook that gave me a 30 minute preview of the next book in the series, Vital Lies (1991). That was a very pleasant surprise! Bonus points to Griffindor!
Hallowed Murder by Ellen Hart
Narrator: Aimee Jolson (Goodreads and a few other places online list Carol Jordan Stewart as narrator. She seems to be the narrator of the 1995 release. The Audible copy I have is narrated by Jolson. Maybe someday I’ll be able to compare their performances.)
Original print edition released in 1989 by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House
Length: 8 hours, 25 minutes
Audiobook release date: 2014
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