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Who knew that a career in video documentaries could lead to crime? Such is the fate of Chicago’s Ellie Foreman whose shoots hook her up with misdeeds past and present. Here she is producing a video about foster children that’s being financed by a successful Chicago real estate developer. Her plans get thrown for a loop when a mysterious package appears at her door one winter night. Inside she finds a surveillance video showing the murder of a young woman. Who was this woman and what is her connection to Ellie? The cops shunt her aside, but the urgency she feels to find answers, coupled with her professional knowledge of film, compel her to sleuth despite the difficulties borne from a complex history with her lover, David. A little digging reveals that the murder victim was a courier with a dark history forged in Eastern Europe at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse. And a little more digging reveals dark happenings here at home, money laundering, and the deadly price of dealing in diamonds…
From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:
Chicago filmmaker Ellie Foreman specializes in video documentaries, but her career has a way of sliding into harrowing murder investigations, as it does in this powerful tale, the third in the series. Foreman’s receipt of a hand-delivered, unmarked surveillance videotape, apparently showing the cold-blooded murder of a young woman, ensures she gets involved in the police hunt for the woman’s killer, if only at the fringes. At the same time, Foreman is filming a documentary for wealthy mover-and-shaker Ricki Feldman, a lady in a position to throw money and opportunities Foreman’s way-opportunities that have their own dangers. When the police run out of leads in the murder case, Foreman shifts into high gear and uncovers a web of deceit connected to the break-up of the Soviet Union and the ensuing chaos and crime. Hellmann is adept at welding technical information about film-making, diamond cutting and other arcane subjects to strong characters. With her somewhat disreputable past, Foreman comes across as a complex and flawed heroine, who grapples with issues as large as murder and as mundane as an overdue visit to her father. Foreman’s pluck and grit married to Hellmann’s solid storytelling should win a growing audience.
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An excerpt from An Image of Death:
Ricki Feldman is the type of woman best admired from a distance—if you get too close, you might find some of your body parts missing. But here I was sitting next to her at La Maison, one of the toniest restaurants on Chicago’s North Shore.
We were seated in a private dining room with dark wood beams, stucco walls, and terracotta floor tiles. Huge arrangements of fresh flowers—a significant feat in the middle of January—surrounded us. The occasion was a ladies’ luncheon in Ricki’s honor. The directors of WISH, Women for Interim Subsidized Housing, had organized it to thank her for a twenty thousand dollar donation, dollars that would help support low-cost housing for kids who’d been in foster care but couldn’t afford to live on their own.
Charity. Tzedukah. A simple act of philanthropy. Except with the Feldmans, nothing was ever simple. The daughter of a hugely successful real estate developer, Ricki had taken control of the company several years ago at her father’s death, and was proving to be just as ambitious and shrewd. In fact, you got the sense that good deeds, money, even people, were just commodities to the Feldmans. Bargaining chips for some future quid pro quo. Which was why it was wise to make sure you left with everything you came in with when you dealt with them.
Two waiters hovered over her now, refilling her water glass and whisking imaginary crumbs off the white tablecloth. With silky dark hair, magnetic brown eyes, and a willowy build, Ricki was the kind of woman it was hard to look away from. Even so her expression was always calculating, measuring, taking stock. I kept my hands in my lap and my knees pressed together.
The eight other women at the luncheon were decked out in designer finery. I spotted a Missoni label on one woman, another with a Fendi bag. Silver flashed at their necks and ears, and it was hard to find a wrinkle on any face. I felt like the hired help in my Garfield and Marx slacks. In fact, when Ricki introduced me around as the woman who produced the video about “The Glen”, I repressed the urge to pay fealty.
You see, Ricki and I weren’t friends. And I wasn’t a contributor to WISH. A few months ago Feldman Development had built a luxury housing project on the old naval base in Glenview, and Ricki hired me to produce a video about it. I’d had misgivings—environmentalists were trying, unsuccessfully it turned out, to preserve the land as prairie. But she threw a lot of money at me; money I needed to make ends meet. So I took it, produced the show, and tried not to dwell on what the shortage of grasslands would do to global warming.
“The Glen” eventually became one of Feldman’s most successful properties, and when Ricki invited me to lunch, I thought it might be a belated thank you, so I accepted. You might disapprove of their methods, you might not like their style, but the Feldmans were tireless. They got things done. Plus, it’s not often I get the chance to hobnob with women of wealth and privilege.
Now, though, as chatter about exotic vacations, haute couture, and the latest Hollywood scandal drifted over the table, I silently shoveled salad into my mouth, feeling just a bit overwhelmed.
The waiters cleared our plates, then brought out brandy snifters filled with sorbet. As I smiled up my thanks, I caught the waiter staring at my chest. I looked down. A dark oily stain was spreading across my blouse. Salad dressing. And I hadn’t worn a jacket. The waiter sniffed and moved on. I propped an elbow on the table, in an effort to hide the offending spot. Resting my chin on my hand, I tried to appear thoughtful.
It was a short-lived attempt.
“You don’t like sorbet, Ellie?” Ricki asked a moment later.
“Oh, I like it.” I smiled weakly and reached for my spoon. As my elbow moved, Ricki’s gaze dropped to my chest. “Oh dear. I’m sorry.”
Suddenly eight pairs of eyes were on me.
I dipped my napkin in my water glass and dabbed at the spot, but, of course, that only made it worse. My heart’s not enough—I have to wear my lunch on my sleeve, too. I dabbed some more, but it was hopeless. There was only one solution, especially with this crowd. I tossed my head, put my hands in my lap, and affected a je-ne-sais-quoi nonchalance. Next time I’d wear a haz mat suit.
A blond woman with skin so tight it looked like stretched canvas rose and tapped a knife against her water glass. “Now, ladies.” She looked around the table, a brilliant, pasted on smile encompassing us all. “In honor of Ricki Feldman’s generous donation to WISH, I thought we’d play a little game.”
I smiled. I knew these games. A variation of a roast, someone asks silly questions about the individual being honored, and the person with the most correct answers wins a prize. I looked around the table. During the course of producing the Glen video, I’d learned a lot about Ricki. Where she went to school, her cat’s name, her favorite movie. I stood a good chance of winning. I wondered what the prize was. I wouldn’t waste my time over perfume or candy, but a day at a spa, or a gift certificate for some trendy store could be worth it. With this crowd, it was a distinct possibility. I dug out a memo pad and pen from my bag.
The game was momentarily delayed when the maitre d’ rolled the pastry cart up to the table. Leave it to a man a to tease us with the foods we crave but shouldn’t eat. They’re still trying to get even for that Eve and the apple thing. One woman ordered flourless chocolate cake, and another chose a flaky apple tart. I summoned up my will power and tried to pretend they were laced with cyanide. Or botulism.
The lady with the face-lift stood up again. “Ready now, ladies? Oh. I almost forgot.” She looked around and grinned. “Whoever wins gets a massage and facial at North Shore spa.” She smiled and seemed to rest her eyes on me.
Not bad, I thought and smiled back, eagerly anticipating questions about siblings, birthdays, best friends in kindergarten.
The blonde cleared her throat. “All right. First question. Who’s wearing a brand new diamond today?”
Diamonds? The women tittered, and two hands shot into the air. Ricki fingered a diamond solitaire at her throat.
“No, no, ladies.” The blond woman waggled a finger at us. “You’re supposed to write down how many ladies you think are wearing diamonds today. And they have to be new.”
More giggles and surreptitious glances. I squirmed. What kind of game was this? I wondered whether I’d made a mistake coming. I could be at home, surfing the net or planning the important, hard-hitting documentary I would produce one day. I snuck a glance at Ricki. A confirmed workaholic, she could be making deals, building shopping centers, collecting rents. But she was smiling benevolently, as if she had nothing more pressing to do than decide between a two or three carat prong set ring.
It suddenly occurred to me I might not win this game.
The blonde woman waited until the rest of the group had finished writing and licked her lips. “Okay… second question.” She flicked an imaginary speck off her Theirry Mugler jacket. “How many ladies are wearing a new outfit today?”
My smile felt glued to my face. These women may not have gone to Harvard, but the way they scrutinized each other, working their way up from shoes to earrings, was just as intimidating. I imagined a classroom filled with women clutching number-two pencils, filling in designer names on their SAT’s.
“Ready to move on?” The woman chirped.
I took a sip of water.
“Now for our third, and final question.” She paused dramatically, then slid her eyes toward me. “Who knows what Ellie Foreman does for a living?”
I slumped, trying to ignore the knowing looks cast my way. Now I knew why I was there. They wanted me to produce a video for WISH. Ricki had told them all about me. Hell, she probably promised to deliver me on a platter. I was the lamb led to slaughter. The dog to the pound. And Ricki Feldman was holding the leash.
“Waiter!” I shot my hand in the air, no longer caring about the stain on my blouse. If I was going to pay for this lunch, the least I could do was order dessert.
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