A PICTURE OF GUILT
In Hellman's fast-paced second Ellie Foreman mystery (after 2002's An Eye for Murder), the divorced mother and producer of documentaries and training films belatedly realizes that outtakes on one of her features may furnish an alibi for a Chicago dock worker about to go on trial for the brutal murder of his girlfriend. To her credit, her decision to come forward is reflexive, though she's unprepared for the battering she takes on the witness stand—or for the jury's rejection of her evidence. Ellie's good deed results in even more punishment when she begins to lose clients concerned that her disclosure of the footage evinces scruples in possible conflict with her duties to them. These professional difficulties prove to be secondary when she realizes that the bodies piling up are all connected with the murder trial. Ellie's detective skills consist of little more than intelligent persistence, coupled with luck. While the struggles with such people as her rebellious teenage daughter, her aging father and her dependable but overprotective boyfriend humanize her, their resolutions are all too predictable. The book's near-apocalyptic climax, yet another disaster averted by chance, reinforces the feeling that the well-meaning Ellie is out of her depth. The author might better serve her heroine by matching Ellie's limited abilities with a mystery of similar scope. (June 27)
FYI: An Eye for Murder is a nominee for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel.