The Lost Women of Lost Lakeby Ellen Hart
Restaurateur and part-time P.I. Jane Lawless is taking some much-needed time off at her family's lodge when her best friend, Cordelia, arrives with news that Tess, one of their good friends, has taken a nasty fall and needs their help with rehearsals for a play that is set to open in a week. When Tess isn't on crutches, she helps run the Thunderhook Lodge, the
Restaurateur and part-time P.I. Jane Lawless is taking some much-needed time off at her family's lodge when her best friend, Cordelia, arrives with news that Tess, one of their good friends, has taken a nasty fall and needs their help with rehearsals for a play that is set to open in a week. When Tess isn't on crutches, she helps run the Thunderhook Lodge, the premier resort on Lost Lake. And while she clearly needs Jane and Cordelia's assistance, she isn't exactly acting all that grateful.
A man who claims to be a journalist has arrived in Lost Lake with an old photograph and some questions for Tess that go back decades. His questions have put her on edge, and when he shows up peeking through her kitchen window, everyone else is right there with her. As beloved as Tess is, there are plenty of people who don't care about any so-called journalist and are happy to protect her, but how far are they willing to take it? And when will they need answers to questions that that only Tess can provide?
In The Lost Women of Lost Lake—the most engrossing mystery yet from Lambda and Minnesota Book Award–winning author Ellen Hart—Jane's only hope of protecting her friends from the secrets that are surfacing all around them is to uncover the whole truth before anyone else can.
“As ever, author Ellen Hart presents first-rate depictions of her locales and her returning characters.… An appealing homage to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon underscores the bountiful action, which also includes a revelatory scene involving Chess’s girlfriend that would made Alfred Hitchcock proud.”
—Yahoo Shine! on The Cruel Ever After
“One of the strengths of Hart’s acclaimed series (this is the eighteenth book) is that the rich details about food, family, and place never undermine the swift pacing of her plots. Readers feel so much a part of Jane’s world that we’d fight for a table at the Lyme House Restaurant in Minneapolis just for a taste of Jane’s corned beef and cabbage.”
—Star-Tribune (Minneapolis) on The Cruel Ever After
“The Lambda Literary Award and Minnesota Book Award–winning author of seventeen Jane Lawless mysteries knows how to spin a tale full of complex plot lines, fast-paced action, and characters skilled in deception. Fans of the Lawless series and readers who enjoy gay/lesbian mysteries will not be disappointed.”
—Library Journal (starred review) on The Mirror and the Mask
“Ellen Hart, one of Minnesota’s bestselling mystery writers, weaves a net of complex relationships. . . . Sweet Poison is as much a psychological thriller about unrequited love as a mystery.”
—St. Paul Pioneer Press
“Hart is at the top of her game.”
—Curve Magazine on The Mortal Groove
A sleuth gets involved in a melancholy mystery that unravels the dark past of a close friend.
Restaurateur and amateur investigator Jane Lawless and the outrageous (and outrageously outfitted) Cordelia Thorn head to Lost Lake to provide cheer and respite to their friends Tessa and Jill. Jane imagines that her time will be spent cooking for the longtime couple while Tessa's sprained ankle heals, but it appears that something much greater is amiss in their hosts' apparently idyllic lives. Although Tessa's anything but forthcoming about whatever's bothering her, Jill implores Jane to dig a little deeper. The situation is complicated by the arrival of Tessa and Jill's nephew Jonah. The teen, whose girlfriend Emily is a Lost Lake local, seeks refuge at his aunts' place. In Jonah's absence, it appears that Emily may have gotten involved with Kenny, Jonah's closest childhood friend, though neither of the two is being open with Jonah about their new relationship. Tessa and Jill struggle to rise above Jonah's teen drama while Tessa's secrets threaten the health of their otherwise stable union. A new possible love interest, meanwhile, gives Jane a bit of drama of her own.
A distinct improvement in this series, this tale is more coherent than its most recent predecessors (The Cruel Ever After, 2010, etc.), but also more somber in tone.
Read an Excerpt
The Lost Women of Lost Lake
By Ellen Hart
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2011 Ellen Hart
All rights reserved.
A crimson sun sat low in the sky over the blue waters of Lost Lake when the stranger walked into the LaVasser Soda Fountain & Gift Emporium on Main Street. Lyndie LaVasser, the owner, happened to be standing behind the cash register at the time, hiding the cigarette she was smoking by keeping her hand tucked under the counter. She'd been watching her grandson, Kenny, hustle a girl who'd graduated from high school with him last spring. She was seated on one of the old-fashioned chrome and red Naugahyde stools. The girl's name was Emily Jensen, a vapid but pretty little flirt. Kenny was ignoring the rest of the customers, which concerned Lyndie because, with the bad economy, the soda fountain was keeping the emporium afloat.
She cleared her throat.
Her grandson glanced up and grinned.
She nodded to the man waving his hand, trying to get his attention.
"Be back in a flash," Kenny said to Emily.
The boy might look like a linebacker for a pro football team, yet he was still a child, in Lyndie's opinion — happy one minute, down in the dumps the next. Emily, with that ethereal look in her eyes, overdone makeup, and long, golden, naturally curly tresses, was a diva in training, not the kind of girl who would ever understand a difficult personality like Kenny. The boy needed someone down-to-earth, someone who could watch a Vikings game with him and then go outside during halftime and enjoy watching him blow stuff up in the backyard. In her experience, men rarely picked wives for the right reasons. They went for looks. Legs. Breasts. Hips. Mouths. Eyes. Smiles. Damn the torpedoes and anything else that got between them and their favorite body part.
Lyndie made a mental note to talk to Kenny about this Emily kid, and yet as she watched the stranger move around the store, the thought drifted out of her mind.
Dipping down to take another quick drag, Lyndie eased onto a stool. At sixty-two, she was still slim and attractive, although she also fit quite easily into the grandmother category, which annoyed the heck out of her because inside she felt a tad divalike herself. Outward appearances, as she well knew, could be deceiving. Lyndie had a past, and that past told her the man eyeing the books by Minnesota authors along the back wall was a cop.
Working his way up to the front, the man smiled at her as he touched the black brim of his Chicago White Sox cap. "Evening."
"Can I help you?"
"I hope so. I'm looking for a woman named Judy Clark." He planted a pair of hairy hands on the glass countertop. "She'd be in her sixties now. About your age, I would guess. I have a photo, although it's old. And it's not very good." He reached into the inner pocket of his light cotton jacket, drew it out.
Lyndie stubbed out the cigarette and slipped on her reading glasses. "You say this person lives in Lost Lake?"
"That's what I've been told."
The photo showed a waiflike young woman in jeans and a navy peacoat standing next to a handsome, sandy-haired guy in a ripped army jacket. Both were wearing bulky scarves that partially obscured their faces. "Have you tried the phone book?"
"She's not listed."
Handing the snapshot back, Lyndie shrugged. "Sorry. I've never seen either of these people before. As you said, the picture's kind of old. Where was it taken?"
"Chicago. November, nineteen sixty-eight."
"A long time ago."
He didn't respond, just nodded.
"Who's the guy?"
"Name was Jeff Briere."
"I'm sorry. Was he a friend?"
"I never met him."
"So ... it's the woman you're interested in?"
"If you don't mind my asking, who is she to you?"
His thick eyebrows drew down over penetrating dark eyes. He reminded her of a crow — sleek, watchful, clever. "Just a person I need to talk to. I'll find her. One way or the other." He turned, looked up at the old tin ceiling. "You've got quite a place here. A piece of history, something from the early part of the last century." Glancing over at the soda fountain, he added, "That almost looks real."
"It is real. My ex-husband and I had it removed, piece by piece, from a drugstore that was going out of business in a small town in South Dakota. It's a big attraction around here, especially in the summer when the fishermen arrive and the resorts fill up."
He gazed around him a moment more, then faced her. "I take it you're a lifelong resident."
He repositioned his cap, clearly not ready to end the conversation. "The guy over at the hardware store told me about a woman in town who might be able to help me. Her name's Helen Merland. Apparently she and her husband own the Lost Lake Brewing Company."
"Used to. Helen's husband died many years ago. She's in her late eighties now."
"The guy said she knows everybody. That's what I'm looking for. Someone with connections and a good memory."
"Well, then, I think you're out of luck. Helen was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year."
He didn't look the least bit sorry, just disgruntled.
"How bad off is she?"
Helen was forgetful. She became mixed up easily, would occasionally move back and forth in time, and yet, for the most part, was still able to take care of herself and live in her own home. Lyndie had never considered that Helen's growing affliction would have any bearing on her life, other than the sadness that came from slowly, inexorably losing a dear friend to a terrible disease. "I wouldn't bother her if I were you."
He returned the snapshot to the pocket of his jacket.
"Are you planning to stick around?"
"For a while." He took out a card. "If you think of anything that might help me, that's my cell."
She waited until the front door closed behind him before she picked up the card and read the name.
STEVEN FEIGENBAUMER CELL: 984-555-8291
With a last name like that, he had to be related.
"What's wrong?" called Kenny, still hovering near Emily.
Lyndie forced a smile. "Nothing. Everything's fine."
Except that it wasn't. She did know a woman named Judy Clark. She saw her every morning when she looked in the mirror.CHAPTER 2
"What if he's out for revenge? Or wants to turn us over to the police? We've got to do something!"
Tessa Cornell held the phone away from her ear and could still hear Lyndie's braying voice through the phone line. "I agree," she said, setting her briefcase down on the kitchen island. "But what?" "You're the one with all the ideas," said Lyndie, all but hyperventilating. "If it weren't for you, I wouldn't be in this mess."
"That's bullshit and you know it."
"Don't use that kind of language around me."
So it was finally here, thought Tessa. She was about to face the adversary she'd always known would come. Now that he had, she felt a strange calm settle over her, though she knew it wouldn't last.
"Once upon a time," began Tessa, about to deliver a history lesson.
"Just stop it," said Lyndie. "I've changed. I'm not the same person I was back in Chicago."
Tessa felt the gulf, too, between the woman she'd been and the woman she was now.
"If that man knows we're here —"
"You said that all he had was an old picture of you and Jeff that barely showed your faces."
"Yeah, but —"
"So how does he get from a bad photo to us?"
"I don't know, but I'm scared. I mean, why, of all places, did he choose to come into the emporium? Maybe he knows more than he's letting on."
Tessa was furious with Lyndie for not grilling the guy harder to find out what he knew. Bad luck had tied Tessa's fate to Lyndie's, though there was little she could do about it now. Lyndie was a lightweight. She was also a chameleon. Her usual MO was to let the men in her life fill in the blank space between her ears.
"He wants to talk to Helen," said Lyndie.
"He won't get anything out of her."
"What about the Alzheimer's?"
The last time Tessa had talked to Helen she'd seemed almost normal. Still, it was something to consider. "Just keep your mouth shut. You haven't said anything to George, have you?"
George was Lyndie's fiancé and the pastor of Lost Lake Lutheran. To think that Lyndie, alias Judy Clark, with her past, had ended up engaged to a minister might have been hilarious if it weren't so absurdly ironic.
"If George ever finds out what we did —"
"Call me tomorrow," said Tessa. "And relax. If the guy had more, we'd already be in jail."
"I can always count on you to be Miss Sunshine, right, Judy?"
"Don't call me that. They might be tapping our phones."
"You know. People who tap phones."
"Just be careful."
"A little late for that." She hung up.
Tessa was glad now that she'd called the rehearsal early. She was directing an Alan Ayckbourn farce, Relatively Speaking, for the Lost Lake Community Theater, but as the evening went on, she found herself growing increasingly annoyed by the playwright's babbling dialogue. Dialogue was supposed to be an Ayckbourn speciality. She usually found the riffs and charming misunderstandings entertaining. Perhaps it was the leaden way the actors were delivering their lines. For the past four weeks she'd done her best with them. Summer audiences expected humor, light entertainment. The show opened next Friday. She had work to do before then, but couldn't deal with it tonight. Ultimately, the play would be what it would be. She laughed, somewhat bitterly, to think that her youthful idealism had turned into such aging fatalism. Cozy bromides aside, "'Twas ever thus" still seemed an accurate statement of human affairs.
Early on, Tessa had chosen to keep her partner, Jill, in the dark about her past, although she often wondered if she'd made the right decision. Unbelievable as it seemed to her now, the kid who had once wandered the streets of a small town in Nebraska wondering if there was anyone like her anywhere else on earth had ended up in a twenty-six-year relationship with a woman she adored. Dreams did come true.
Jill's family had owned Thunderhook Lodge, Lost Lake's premier resort, ever since Lars Anders Ivorsen, Jill's great-grandfather, had built the main lodge in the early nineteen twenties. For Jill, Thunderhook was a connection to her childhood and a job she loved. For Tessa, Lost Lake suited her needs because it was about as remote as a person could get and still find some semblance of civilization.
Unlike Lyndie, who never saw a cocktail she didn't like, Tessa rarely drank anything stronger than a glass of wine with dinner. Back in the day, she remembered thinking that people who did drugs were weak- minded. She refused to partake, even when most of her friends, people she trusted and admired, frequently got wasted on booze or stoned on pot. After the phone call from Lyndie, however, she felt the urge for something stronger than chardonnay.
Tessa held the tequila bottle over the blender jar. Several long glugs later, she added the Rose's lime juice and the triple sec, then a bunch of ice cubes. In a matter of seconds she had herself a pitcher of margaritas. Not that she bothered to find an actual pitcher.
Stepping out on the deck overlooking the lake, feeling the breeze off the water ruffle her short, dyed blond hair, she drank straight from the blender jar as she stood at the railing. The burn in her throat felt good, centering. In the blue twilight, lights dotted the far shoreline. She assumed that Jill was still up at the main lodge working the reception desk, which meant she had some time to tuck her emotions safely back inside. She hated all the lies, although in the years she and Jill had been together, she had found no way around them. To tell Jill the truth would have made her an accomplice.
It was possible, Tessa supposed, that Steve Feigenbaumer would find nothing concrete and go away quietly. If all he had was a faded snapshot, he didn't have much to go on. Still, the fact that he was even in Lost Lake meant that he'd learned something, and that thought acted like acid, eating away at the barriers Tessa had so carefully erected between the woman she used to be and the woman she was now.
What was that famous Faulkner line? "The past is never dead. It's not even past." That was the best definition of her life she'd ever come across.
Sitting down on a chaise, Tessa continued to sip from the blender jar. Under normal circumstances, the waves lapping against the shore would have provided some sense of calm. Tonight, however, with the restless mood she was in, the waves did nothing but irritate her. She couldn't work on the new play she'd begun writing, didn't want to think. The truth was, she was sick to death of her own nihilism. If Nietzsche and Eugene O'Neill were right, a person needed a heavy set of delusions to find any meaning in life. Her delusions had been burned to the ground long ago.
Hearing the garage door open, Tessa got up and walked over to the stairs leading down to the driveway. Jill was backing the Jeep out into the drive. When Jill cut the motor, Tessa called down, "Didn't expect you home so early."
Jill slid out of the front seat and smiled up at her. "I figured you'd be at the rehearsal until ten." She cocked her head. "What's in your hand?"
"Are you planning to share?"
"What could be wrong?"
Jill leaned partway over the hood. "Thought I'd run up to the store and get us some munchies. I was hoping we could watch a movie tonight."
Tessa took an unsteady step down the stairs. "How do I know you don't have a girlfriend waiting for you at the Piggly Wiggly?"
"If I did, would you be jealous?"
Another smile. "I'm a little too old for that kind of hanky-panky." She pointed to her silver hair.
"You look pretty good to me."
"That's because your eyes are aging as fast as my hair."
Tessa had just turned sixty-five. Jill was sixty-eight. Her hair had gone gray in her late forties, so it was nothing new. Tessa thought it was beautiful, thought Jill was beautiful. "Don't forget the chip dip."
"And don't you start the festivities without me." With that, she hopped in the front seat.
Tessa watched the red tail lights disappear up the gravel road, surprised by the tears welling in her eyes. She wasn't sure what she'd do if anything ever happened to Jill.
Tessa lived her life inside her head. She always had. She was clumsy when it came to sports, never did play on a softball team like every other good dyke in the universe. She was chunky and hid it under heavy sweaters in her youth and updated Mexican peasant dresses now. She favored scoop necks to show off her turquoise jewelry and shawls to hide her one too many curves. Given the choice between sitting in a chair and reading a book or going for a walk, the chair and the book would win every time.
Jill was athletic, lived in a body that still water-skied in the summer, skated and cross-country skied in the winter. She ran a couple miles every day, swam in the evenings if the weather permitted. She loved activity and took great pleasure in the simple joy of motion. She liked nothing more than fixing things — cars, motorcycles, boat motors, clocks. To her, everything was a puzzle, and that meant everything had a solution.
What seemed most ironic to Tessa was that Jill, in the eyes of the world, was a nobody. Tessa was the accomplished one. She'd written twenty-seven plays, most of which had been produced at least once. She had a dozen or more awards to her credit. And yet, without Jill as an anchor, she would have spun off into the cosmos long ago. Jill kept her going, kept her feet firmly planted on the ground. She was strong and centered and kind. In a crazy world, Jill was Tessa's tether to a reality that kept her sane.
Taking another couple of swallows from the blender jar, Tessa continued down the stairs to the garage. She weaved a little, thinking it was funny until she nearly tripped over a crowbar. She kicked it, angry that it had crawled into her path, then bent down to pick it up. The cold, heavy metal felt good in her hand. A solid means of destruction. Swaying out of the drive, past the log pile into the trees that surrounded the cottage, she took a swing at a low-hanging branch. To her amazement, it ripped clean away. She would take this crowbar up to her study to help her hack through the thick weeds of thought.
Forging ahead, with a nearly full moon lighting her way, she continued to sip from the jar. By now there wasn't much left, which was probably why her body felt light and buoyant. In contrast, her ruminations had grown so heavy that she was afraid they would crack her head open.
"Stop it," she ordered, recognizing alcohol-fueled melodrama when she saw it.
"Besides," she grumbled, "it was all Hubey's fault." She took a swipe at another branch. "It was freakin' kindergarten ethics. Always has been. You're either for us or against us."
She walked on, not thinking too much about where she was headed. The night air felt cool against her hot skin. When the blender was empty, she set it down on a rock, intending to come back for it. "Time for a gut check. Gotta keep doing those gut checks. Where are you? What are you thinking? Come on, now. No cop-outs. A cop-out is a mortal sin." She cringed at the jargon of her youth.
Excerpted from The Lost Women of Lost Lake by Ellen Hart. Copyright © 2011 Ellen Hart. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
ELLEN HART, "a top novelist in the cultishly popular gay mystery genre" (Entertainment Weekly), is also a Lambda and Minnesota Book Award winner. The author of eighteen previous mysteries featuring Jane Lawless, she lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
ELLEN HART, “a top novelist in the cultishly popular gay mystery genre” (Entertainment Weekly), is also a Lambda and Minnesota Book Award winner. The author of more than twenty mysteries featuring Jane Lawless, she lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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It is interesting how these things come in multiples. Libby Hellmann recently released a novel with its genesis in the riotous summer and fall of 1968. The Minnesota History Center has just opened an elaborate exhibit focused on 1968, and the History Theater in Saint Paul has mounted an original play, ¿1968, The year That Rocked The World.¿ And now here we have a powerful, emotionally intense novel by that excellent Minneapolis writer, Ellen Hart. It is a story of two women who are unable to divorce themselves from that same year, 1968 and the decisions and actions they took then. The story is another event in the evolving saga of Minneapolis restaurateur, Jane Lawless. This time she and bosom chum Cordelia take what they intend to be a short vacation trip into Minnesota¿s benign northern wilderness to the Lawless family lodge on a lake north of the Twin Cities. It¿s a common enough activity, and bucolic time on placid water amid peaceful forests is expected to provide calm and rejuvenation. Jane is trying to decide whether she can commit to working with a close friend toward becoming a professional private investigator. The peaceful appearing forest, like so many lives, conceals dark doings and Jane is drawn into a maelstrom of murder, revenge, drugs and double dealing. The multiple threads of this complex story intersect, divide, and then reweave. At times the action is high with tension, the pace frantic. At other times, the story becomes thoughtful, calm, like the smooth waters of the lake itself, allowing readers moments to reflect, perhaps, on their own lives and paths not taken. The women of lost lake, must, in the end, decide for themselves, and take for themselves the heart-rending consequences of their lives. I note in passing that the author and I are friends, which has no bearing on the gist of this review.
Ellen is truly an excellent spinner of a tale- lots of interesting people are introduced and the story builds and builds into a situation that you never see coming. The ending is a true shocker- I was so surprised and the tears rained freely- there was so much emotion. This book really deals with an impossible situation and how the characters try to live and deal with it. Please read it and enlighten your soul!! Thanks
Playwright Tessa Cornell severely sprains her ankle. Her wife of twenty six years Jill Ivorsen cares for her mate at the Thunderhook Lodge she owns by Lost Lake. Minneapolis restaurant owner (of Lyme House and the Xanadu Club) Jane Lawless and her best friend the Allen Grimsby Repertoire Theater of St. Paul artist director Cordelia Thorn travel to Lost Lake to help their friends with a sundry of things like cooking. A man wearing a White Sox shirt arrives at the LaVasser Soda Fountain seeking information about a woman named Judy Clark who is in a Chicago photo from 1968 with the deceased Jeff Briere. Owner Lyndie LaVasser says she cannot help Steven Feigenbaumer as she has no idea who this woman he seeks is. However, she sees Judy Clark whenever she looks into a mirror. Frantic Lyndie calls Tessa accusing her of getting her in the mess over five decades ago. Jane arrives and knows something besides her ankle bothers Tessa, but the woman refuses to reveal what disturbs her. Her wife begs Jane, who has solved mysteries before (see the Cruel Ever Affair), to investigate. This is a great Jane Lawless amateur sleuth as what happened in riotous 1968 Chicago impacts the present with a long dead cold case returning to life haunting everyone involved. The is some teen triangular angst involving Jill's nephew and two locals, and Jane may have a new beau; both enhance the prime story line of what happened over five decades ago that haunt Lyndie and Tessa. Harriet Klausner
Couldn't reconcile the ending.
I love all the Jane Lawless books, but this one is Ellen Hart's supreme best. The psychological story--the intertwining of a sobering youthful mistake and a beautiful present-day relationship, along with Tessa's efforts to protect her relationship from her past--is even more intriguing than the whodunit plot. The complexities of Jonah's trying to fit himself into an unraveling family add depth to a deeply moving story. It is the emotional impact of this novel that makes it more than a light mystery read.