The Cruel Ever After Review
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Winter is the perfect time to pick up a cozy mystery. After a cold, grey day, it’s nice to curl up with a light and easy-going read with likeable everyday characters and a story that will keep you guessing. But if you pick up Ellen Hart’s latest Jane Lawless mystery, The Cruel Ever After, you might not get what you were expecting.

Chester Garrity was the last person Minneapolis restaurant owner Jane Lawless expected to see walking through her door. But after twenty years, he shows up at her restaurant one day—homeless and penniless, but still as charming as ever. In fact, it’s that charm that convinced openly gay Jane to marry him years ago—to help him secure his inheritance, while also making enough for herself to open her own restaurant.

Chess, however, isn’t the man that Jane thinks he is. He’s in town on some illegal business: selling a priceless artifact that was stolen from the Baghdad Museum. It’s likely that the deal has already gotten at least one man killed—and while Chess scrambles to cover his tracks and stay out of trouble, he reaches out to Jane for help. But her own trusting, helpful nature could put her in danger, too.

  
 
It’s easy to see why Hart’s Jane Lawless mysteries have built a strong following; Jane is a solid, likeable character. She’s a strong, successful businesswoman with a big heart, a cool head, and plenty of quirky friends.

For that reason, then, it’s difficult to understand how such a smart, strong woman would get mixed up with a trouble-making slime ball like Chess. From the very beginning, you’ll know that he’s a shady character—and he only gets more unlikeable as the story continues. He’s a manipulative crook—and it’s hard to believe that Jane and her friends would fall for his charms.

But Chess isn’t the only unlikeable character in The Cruel Ever After. His partner in crime, Irina, is even worse. She’s weak and whiny (and she’s more than a little bit crazy)—and she was easily manipulated into working with Chess on a deal that could put her and her family in some serious danger.

When The Cruel Ever After focuses on Jane and her friends and family, it’s light and enjoyable. But too much of the story focuses on Chess and Irina—and their unlikeable personalities and shady dealings put a damper on the whole novel. To make matters worse, when the story ends, very little is resolved. And those unanswered questions—along with the frustrating characters—make this mystery less than cozy.

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