The first novel in crime writer Libby Fischer Hellmann's popular Ellie Foreman mystery series, An Eye for Murder, introduces the documentary filmmaker, single mom, and amateur sleuth in a tale that opens in Nazi-era Prague and closes on the North Shore suburb of present-day Chicago.
When an elderly stranger, Ben Sinclair, watches Ellie's "Celebrate Chicago" cable television show and dies suddenly not long after, Ellie receives a letter from Ben's landlady, who's found Ellie's name on a scrap of paper among Ben's possessions. Agreeing to help dispose of his effects, but not knowing of any connection, Ellie begins to piece together Ben's story from the books and wartime relics he's left behind.
Ellie's search for clues takes her on a dangerous, winding trail from the political present of the North Shore to buried memories of the city's ethnic neighborhoods and steel mills, an illicit love affair, Nazi-era intrigue, and more than one murder thrown in.
An Eye for Murder (published in 2002) is the first in the four Ellie Foreman mystery thrillers from Libby Fischer Hellmann, and was followed by A Picture of Guilt (2003), An Image of Death (2004), and A Shot to Die For. The 5th entry, JUMP CUT, will be out in 2016. Ellie Foreman's first outing was nominated for an Anthony Award (Best First), one of the mystery community's most prestigious awards.
When popular mystery writer Libby Fischer Hellman offered the Anthony-Award nominated first novel in her Ellie Forman series for this book bundle, I jumped at the chance. This book travels from Prague in World War II to modern Chicago, Libby's stomping ground. I discovered Libby through her amazing short fiction which led me to her novels. You get to start with one of her very best novels which will ease you into one of her best series to date. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"A masterful blend of politics, history, and suspense, this novel is well worth reading… sharp humor and vivid language… Ellie is an engaging amateur sleuth. Readers will hope they won't have to wait too long for Ellie's return."– Publishers Weekly
"A clever blend of thrills and humor… Hellmann has created a compelling group of believable characters."– Chicago Sun-Times
"Complicated… fascinating… Hellmann has a beautifully tuned ear… which makes many of her scenes seriously funny."– Chicago Tribune
"Entertaining and well written… a surprising and satisfying conclusion… a clever thriller."– Ted Hertel, Mystery News
Prague: August, 1944
The evening air was heavy and damp. Summer kept hanging on. The smell of rotting fish mixed with exhaust fumes as trucks cut through the narrow streets of the city. Nothing seemed clean anymore. It was hard to imagine Prague was once the crown jewel of the Hapsburg Empire.
He'd spent the afternoon checking the route. Strolling past Panska and the office that had housed the Prager Tagblatt until the Nazis shut it down. Past the castle, the palace, and the basilica, with their jumble of Romanesque, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. Trying to look unobtrusive. Just another Czech citizen out on a late summer day.
The city made him uncomfortable. Back home before the war, he'd prowled dark streets and alleys, courting danger, practically daring it to appear. But now, danger meant death if he was caught. He was careful to avoid people and crowds.
The restaurant smelled of stale beer, and the tables were coated with grime. Maybe it was the European tolerance for a state of clean that would make Westerners cringe. Or maybe it was the only way the people in occupied countries had to rebel against Nazi discipline. A few patrons had come in, old men mostly, their bodies shriveled with age. One hobbled on a cane.
After observing the place for an hour, the American decided it was safe to enter. He leaned in at the bar, a glass of beer in his hand, but his gut twisted every time someone glanced his way.
The door squeaked as someone came in. He turned around. The new arrival ordered a Schnapps. The bartender, busying himself with a glass and the bottle, didn't look up. The man tossed his drink down in one gulp and thumped his glass on the bar. The bartender refilled it.
"The Kinski gardens are beautiful now, yes?" the new arrival said in German, looking down the bar.
The American replied in heavily-accented German. "I prefer the park this time of year."
The new arrival shifted slightly, almost imperceptibly. "Yes. It is cooler there."
After ten minutes and another Schnapps, the new arrival dug deep in his pocket, tossed a few coins on the bar, and walked out. The American stayed a few more minutes and then left also, turning toward the river. Dusk was upon him, dark shadows softening the edges of buildings. He was careful to make sure he wasn't followed. Three streets north and two streets east. Just another citizen out for a walk.
As he passed the narrow cobblestone alley behind the museum, a voice from the shadows said softly, "Good evening, comrade."
The American looked up, startled.
"Sorry. My little joke. " His contact smiled. "We will speak in English. But we whisper."
The American managed a nod. "What should I call you?"
He paused. "Kafka. And you?"
"You can call me Joe."
"GI Joe." Kafka's smile faded. "It is unusual to see an American so far from home. Especially here. How did it come about?"
"I had work to do."
"You have had a long journey."
"I have been in Berlin. The East before that."
"A freedom fighter. We honor you, Joe."
"So. I understand you have information for us?"
"How do I know it will get to the right place?"
"There is no guarantee. But we both know you did not agree to this meeting without—how do you say it — checking us out."
Kafka was right. Joe had heard about the intelligence unit formed by the British and the Americans. Fighting the Germans by stealing codes. Infiltrating their ranks. Kafka worked for them, he'd been told. He took a breath. "You've heard of Josef Mengele?"
Kafka's jaw tightened. "The Butcher of Auschwitz."
"Yes." Joe had learned for himself one sunny day not long ago. He remembered wondering how the sun had the nerve to keep shining.
"We have heard rumors. Obscene medical experiments. Inhumane. Vile," Kafka said.
Joe nodded. "We thought the insanity belonged only to Hitler, Mengele, and the madmen here in Europe. But now…" He reached into his jacket and pulled out a sheaf of papers tied together with string. He untied them and handed them to Kafka.
Kafka stayed in the shadows, angling the documents toward a light that spilled into the alley. Joe couldn't see them in the blackness. He didn't need to. A report detailing the experiments. Sent with a cover letter to Reichsfuhrer Himmler, Carl Clauberg, and someone named Rauscher. And one other person.
He waited while the agent read what he knew by heart… "and to our friends on the other side of the ocean, whose financial and moral support has sustained us. We are united in working toward the same goals. May this research aid your efforts as well."
Kafka looked up. His eyes glittered in the shadows. "How did you come by this?"
"I can't tell you," Joe said. It had been Magda's doing. She had "intercepted" the courier. He owed her. "But I will vouch for its authenticity."
"The name on this letter…the American. He is —" "I know who he is."
"Do you know him?" "No."
"I do. He is involved in the war effort. My superiors speak well of him."
Joe squinted. "What are you trying to say?"
"They will not believe this."
A chill edged up his spine. Everything he'd worked for was suddenly in jeopardy. "Does that mean you're not going to pass it through channels?"
Kafka shrugged. "They will think it is disinformation. Calculated to make us respond."
He opened his hand. "Give it back, then. I'll handle it myself."
Kafka moved the letter beyond his reach.
The American's hand crept to his pocket, his fingers gripping the barrel of his Forty-Five. "I haven't risked my fucking neck to see this buried. Not now."
Kafka's eyes stayed on the Americnan's pocket. "I have an idea," he said slowly. "Where are you from, comrade?"
Joe tilted his head. "What the—what does that matter?"
"You are from Chicago, yes?" Kafka moved away from the light.
"How did you know that?"
"Do you think we did not check you out as well?" Kafka smiled. "What is you Americans say? It is a small world, yes?"
Joe glared. "What does that mean?"
"I live there too. Since I left Germany."
Joe kept his grip on the gun.
"Where can I find you— in Chicago?"
"Listen, pal, I'm not gonna—"
"Trust me. Your journey has not been in vain."
Just then he heard the click of boots on the pavement. A group of Waffen SS troops, full of drink from a nearby tavern. He tried to grab the report, but Kafka edged behind him and slipped it inside his shirt.
"Well, comrade?" Kafka said quietly.
The American stiffened. Then he whispered hoarsely, "Miller's. Davy Miller's."
He made himself small as the soldiers stumbled past the alley. When their beery laughs faded into the night, he turned around. Kafka was gone.
Chicago, The Present
The old man lifted his head at the sound. It was probably the dog sniffing outside his door, waiting for a treat. He folded the newspaper and pushed himself up from his chair. His landlady got the mutt last month. For security, she said. Some guard dog. He never barked and always wagged his damn tail when he saw the old man.
He didn't mind. The dog was better company than its owner. He shuffled to the door, stopping to pull out a box of Milk Bones he'd stashed in the closet. He pictured the animal wriggling in pleasure as he waited for his treat. It struck him that the dog was his sole link to a life of warmth and affection. Well, life had always handed him the bent fork. But he'd survived. Like a sewer rat always on the move, he'd foraged what he needed, sometimes getting more, sometimes less.
But now survival wasn't enough. His eyes moved to the newspaper. He'd somehow known it would come to this. You could never destroy the evil; it always grew back, like one of those lethal viruses, more virulent and dangerous than its previous incarnation. He had to act. Soon. He would launch a surgical strike, precisely timed for maximum impact. And this time, he would get results.
Clutching the dog treat in one hand, he opened the door with the other. Two men pushed their way in. One had a pony-tail and wore sunglasses; the other wore a fishing hat pulled low on his forehead. The man with the hat grabbed him in a hammerlock while the other pulled something out of his pocket. A syringe. The old man struggled feebly but he was no match for them. Ponytail plunged the needle into his chest. The old man's hands flew up. The dog biscuit fell and skittered across the floor.