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Reviews Wed Sep 02 2009
by Libby Fischer Hellmann
(Bleak House Books, 2009)
Recently, Barbara D'Amato wrote a post in the Outfit blog describing two types of readers: those who read for plot and those who read for content. Those who read for plot are story-driven, "They want to know what happens next. Think pacing-pacing-pacing!" she writes. At the opposing end are those readers who are content-driven, who read for "history, technical detail, humor...for the beauty of the language." To the plot reader, content-oriented books "don't seem to go anywhere," whereas to the content reader, "story-oriented books seem skimpy and flat." I found this description fitting, particularly since I am, without a doubt, a content reader. With the exception of the occasional book and a belatedly discovered, yet rapidly flourishing love for Sherlock Holmes, I tend to shy away from mysteries and crime novels because I do find them "skimpy and flat." I write this not to disparage the genre - I don't believe these types of stories are necessarily bad, just not for me - but so that when I say that I very much enjoyed reading Libby Fischer Hellmann's Doubleback, you'll know that the book was up against a tough audience.
Doubleback starts with the kidnapping of Molly Messenger, an eight-year-old girl who lives with her divorced mother in the north suburbs of Chicago. Luckily for Molly, Ellie Foreman, a freelance video producer, lives in the same neighborhood and hastens to Christine Messenger's aid when she learns that her daughter has gone missing. After hearing the kidnappers' demands - that Christine not go to police and that she would wait for them to call for further instruction - Ellie enlists the help of police-officer-turned-private-investigator Georgia Davis. Ellie and Georgia have a long history together, even having worked on the same side of a previous case, so when Ellie insists that she needs her help, Georgia can't refrain from jumping in.
Three days later Molly is mysteriously released back to her mother with no signs of injury and no indication that a ransom has been paid. It seems that the case will have a rare happy ending until Ellie and Georgia receive the shocking news that Christine's boss, Chief Operating Officer of Midwest National Bank, having called Christine the previous night to arrange discuss a critical matter in the morning, has died in a car accident. Soon afterwards, Christine, the bank's head of IT, meets a similar fate and both Ellie and Georgia know that there's more to this case than Molly's seemingly harmless kidnapping.
The case turns out to be far more treacherous and pressing than either Ellie or Georgia could have guessed. Christine and Molly Messenger play almost peripheral roles in a crime that sends Georgia racing from Wisconsin to Arizona's Mexican border to find out the connection between one man and a sum of money that cost Christine her life. It is a case that is surprisingly absorbing, the twists and turns refusing to lead to predictable outcomes, and though all is revealed in the end, all does not end happily. Much of the story is told from gruff and hardened Georgia's point of view, as she is the one who uncovers the heart of the crime in the Southwest, but she and Ellie play nicely against each other, each contributing to the case their own particular talents. Though the switch between Ellie's first-person narration and Georgia 's third-person viewpoint is, at first, distracting, the story's wheels move briskly enough to propel the reader through to its end. It is, in the simplest sense of the word, a page-turner.
Ellie Foreman has led a vibrant past through Hellmann's books, making her introduction in Hellmann's first book An Eye for Murder in which she investigates a murder whose roots go back to 1944 Prague. Georgia Davis broke on to the scene last year in Easy Innocence, working a case centered on a girl beaten to death. The two characters are a welcome addition to a growing troupe of strong, female leads in the mystery and crime genre and they pack enough dynamism to snag readers and bring them back to follow future tales of their risky pursuits. Don't be mistaken - I am not now, nor will I ever be a true convert to the genre or the story-driven style of reading. But, I can't say that I won't be looking forward to Hellmann's next contribution to it.
Doubleback will be released in October. To learn more about Libby Fischer Hellmann, please visit her website where you can read excerpts from all of her books.