Hart, Ellen. “The Lost Women of Lost Lake” (Jane Lawless Mysteries), Bywater Books, 2014.
A Stranger by the Lake
1968 was a very important year for two women who cannot seem to leave it behind. We see the repercussions of that in this novel by Ellen Hart that is about dealing with life and relationships.
Our friend, Jane Lawless is back and is on vacation at her family’s lodge. Her friend, Cordelia, came to see her to tell her about another friend, Tessa, who has had a nasty fall, sprained her ankle and needs some help. Tessa is using crutches as she helps to run the Thunderhook Lodge that she and her partner, Jill own and it is a fine resort on Lost Lake. She needs help but she does not seem grateful to get it. Then there is the man who says he is a journalist who has come to Lost Lake with an old picture of Tess and he begins to question her, making her uneasy and on edge especially when she sees him peeking in her window.
Ellen Hart is a wonderful writer who not only brings us a tense mystery but she also gives us a novel that opens our minds and causes us to think as it looks at issues of “responsibility, retribution and reconciliation, and of the weight of a single past action over a lifetime of accomplishments”.
In case you do not remember Jane Lawless, she is a restaurateur in Minneapolis and this time she and her friend, Cordelia have taken a vacation to Jane’s family lodge in the northern wilderness of Minnesota. Jane has a decision to make and this vacation should give her time to think.
However, things do not work out as planned and Jane finds herself in the midst of revenge and murder, drugs and what have you. One of the things that Hart does so well is plan her plots and while her plan is not visible to the naked eye, we do see that as things come together, the reader is also made to think.
Jill Ivorson and Tessa Cornell are also at Lost Lake at Thunderhook, the lodge they own and where some strange happenings are occurring. A mysterious guy has come there asking questions about two people who were involves in a murder in the 1960s. Tessa seems to know something about what happened but the entire atmosphere at Lost Lake changes as suspicions grow. As if that is not enough Jonah, the girls’ nephew comes for a visit. He figures it will be much more peaceful with aunts than listening to his parents argue.
I am not much of a mystery reader but when I do read them, I prefer snug and comfortable little stories so I can concentrate on playing detective which is much easier in a small-scale story. While this is indeed a mystery, it is also a novel that deals with important social issues such as radical protestors, secrets in the past and domestic trouble. With Tessa’s injury, Jill takes care of her while running the resort. Jane and Cordelia are also ready to help.
The mysterious stranger, Steve Feigenbaumer, is also at Lost Lake and he is looking for information on a woman named Judy Clark who is seen in a photograph from 1968 and she is there with the now dead Jeff Briere. He first ask questions at a local ice creamery and the owner, Lyndie LaVasse, says she cannot help and that she’s does not know anyone in the picture. However, we learn that she sees Judy Clark whenever she stands in front of a mirror. She blames Tessa for getting her involved in the first place and so many years ago. When Jane gets there, we see that all she suspects something more than a hurt foot. Tessa refuses to talk about anything dealing with this visit by the stranger. Jill begs Jane to help them and investigate what’s going on.
Hart shows how a mistake made when one was young sometimes emerges later as is the case with Tessa as she tried to protect Jill (and herself). We add to that Jonah’s coming of age and his attempts to fit into a family that is falling all around itself.
I don’t want to write anymore about the plot because this is, after all, a mystery and, in fact, I may have said too much already. Hart is able to mix humor with sadness and, without question, her writing appeals to the reader on several different levels including the emotional which was what pulled me into the story more than anything else. Hart is a wonderful, wonderful writer and this book highlights so many of her skills from character and plot development to her beautiful prose.