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Merchant of Venus Hardcover – February 15, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

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 fiancé 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

From Publishers Weekly

Minneapolis-based restaurateur-sleuth Jane Lawless is out of her element in this so-so mystery, the 10th in the series (after 1999's Hunting the Witch). Jane accompanies her best friend, Cordelia Thorn, to an isolated mansion on the Connecticut coast to attend the hastily arranged marriage of Cordelia's younger sister, Octavia, a Broadway actress, to 83-year-old Roland Lester, a reclusive millionaire movie director. Among the handful of friends and relatives in attendance is documentary filmmaker Ellie Saks, who is at work on a profile of the great director himself--one that threatens to reveal Hollywood secrets of yesteryear. When Roland collapses during the ceremony and dies shortly after of poisoning, suspicion falls on a number of the guests--not least Octavia. Jane's sympathetic nature invites the confidences of others, and her understanding of human nature makes her good at putting the pieces of a mystery together. But the book suffers from a lack of a clear narrative focus, and the characters are clich‚d--none, except for the flamboyant Cordelia, quite comes alive. Uninterrupted stretches of dialogue and online research substitute for character development and investigation. What sets this book apart is the candor with which key characters deal with homosexuality and face the ugly ways they've behaved under the pressure of McCarthyism and the strict moral codes of the past.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Minotaur Books; 1st edition (February 15, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312266189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312266189
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.3 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,249,963 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Ellen Hart is the author of twenty-five crime novels in two different series.?? She is a five-time winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Mystery, a three-time winner of the Minnesota Book Award for Best Popular Fiction, a three-time winner of the Golden Crown Literary Award, a recipient of the Alice B Medal, and was made an official GLBT Literary Saint at the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival in New Orleans in 2005. ?? Entertainment Weekly??named her one of the "101 Movers and Shakers in the Gay Entertainment Industry." For the past twelve years, Ellen has taught "An Introduction to Writing the Modern Mystery" through the The Loft Literary Center, the largest independent writing community in the nation. Ellen's newest Sophie Greenway mystery is No Reservations Required, (Ballantine, June 2005). The Mirror and the Mask, the seventeenth Jane Lawless mystery, was released by St. Martin's/Minotaur in November 2009.?? Ellen lives in Minneapolis with her partner of 32 years.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Constance Berlin on January 18, 2001
Format: Hardcover
When I walked into my local bookstore the other night, I found Merchant of Venus on the front table. I couldn't resist. Hart is a writer I always enjoy, but this book far exceeded my expectations. The old Hollywood setting was suberbly drawn. I devoured the book whole, relishing every gossipy detail. The business about Gone With the Wind was fascinating, and so was the sexual politics -- gay Hollywood, the Hollywood nobody ever talks about. Jane has become more real to me with each book, and Cordelia is, as always, priceless, especially when in the same room with her theatrical sister, Octavia. Innishannon, the huge old mansion in Connecticut where Jane and Cordelia spend Christmas, was as atmospheric to me as Manderlay. Simply put, this book was marvelous (unlike Hunting the Witch, which I thought was okay, but not up to Hart's usual standards.) I couldn't recommend The Merhcant of Venus more highly.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on January 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Sisters Octavia and Cornelia Thom have not spoken to each other in eight years ever since their mother died in a car accident when the former drove drunk. Out of the blue Octavia calls Cornelia asking her to be a witness at her wedding to Roland Lester, a former Hollywood movie star. Unable to resist her sibling's pleadings, Cornelia agrees and drags her best friend, Jane Lawless, chef extraodinaire along to keep her company. Jane feels leaving Minnesota for Connecticut will do her some good since she still suffers from post trauma syndrome, the aftermath of being attacked in her own home.

When Jane and Cornelia arrive at the Connecticut mansion, they immediately sense a lot of undercurrents and tension coming from all directions, but nowhere one can pinpoint. On the day of the wedding, the groom collapses at the altar. Later the doctor pronounces Roland dead, a victim of poisoning. Someone inside his home killed the victim and Jane will not easily rest until she uncovers the identity of the culprit.

Ellen Hart is a genius when it comes to plotting a complex multi-layered story line in which each of the many subplots effortlessly tie back to the main theme. This leads to numerous suspects with clear motives for wanting Roland dead and allows the author to feed her audience a steady diet of misdirection. THE MERCHANT OF VENUS is a great mystery that rereading this and the other tales in this fabulous amateur sleuth series will ease the wait for the next book in this series.

Harriet Klausner
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By P. Bradley on April 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This may be the best mystery yet in the Jane Lawless series. The creepy setting, conflicted characters & dead-on summation of the 50's political witchhunts in Hollywood make for a great read. The only problem -- the book is thick with misspelled words, some of them so bad they're laughable. It's the worst case I've seen in 40 some years of reading. Here's hoping the publisher clears these up when the paperback version is issued.
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