By Terri Schlichenmeyer,  March 12, 2015.

The Old Deep and Dark by Ellen Hart.
Minotaur Books | $25.99.

Your favorite Hollywood star is in the headlines – again. By now, it shouldn’t surprise you. He’s in some sort of scrape a couple times a year, probably just so he can keep top-of-mind; staying in the news is the way stardom works.

Then again, as you’ll see in the new mystery The Old Deep and Dark by Ellen Hart, he could have secrets he wants good and buried.

When Cordelia Thorn bought a crumbling old theatre in downtown Minneapolis she hoped to restore it to its former grandeur. The basement of the building held a century of performing bric-a-brac, proof that many stars had strode across its stage.

The theatre, renamed the Thorn Lester Playhouse, had also been the site of a rumored gangland murder back in the ‘30s. That didn’t bother Cordelia – it was “tradition” to have a ghost in an old theatre, just as it was good business to bring back stars from the stage’s heyday. She was considering, in fact, bringing back Kit Deere.

It had been many years since Kit had appeared onstage in Minneapolis, though she was still considered “theatrical royalty” there. Still acting, and now living in Nashville with her husband, country singer Jordan Deere, Kit had a dream life – until Jordan called for an ominously mandatory family meeting.

Author Ellen Hart.
Photo by Kathleen L. Kruger.

Booker Deere, Kit’s son, had been fully aware of his parents’ unique lifestyle, and he knew that long-kept secret was about to blow sky-high: his father had penned a “novel” that was a little too close to the truth. Booker knew that absolutely nobody in the family wanted that book published. Nobody.

But who would want it quashed enough to murder Jordan Deere?

Private Investigator Jane Lawless definitely had her hands full: she was trying to keep her restaurant smoothly running, trying to help her lawyer father in his defense of Kit, and trying to understand what was going on with her new girlfriend, Avi.

The former could take care of itself. The latter, well, it was probably over anyhow. And the Deere investigation?  That was complicated, especially once the skeletal remains of three people tied to Kit were discovered. As mysteries go, “The Old Deep and Dark” is OK.

There are plenty of distractions here to keep whodunit fans guessing, at least for a while. The characters, though there are way too many of them, are quirky enough to be interesting, but not nasty enough to completely hate. It’s good to see Jane Lawless again in a setting that’s cozy and familiar, though the story itself contains implausible plotlines including a lawyer who pushes the boundaries of ethics and a family secret that seems unkeepable for the decades that author Ellen Hart wants us to accept.

Ultimately, I’m so-so on this book. I think Jane Lawless mystery fans will rejoice at a new installment with their favorite PI. If you’re new to this series, however, this isn’t the book to start with. If you’re new, you may find The Old Deep and Dark to be too shallow and light.

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