Ellie Foreman Mystery, #5
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Date of Publication: March 1, 2016
Number of pages: 286
Chicago video producer, Ellie Foreman, has been absent from thriller author Libby Fischer Hellmann’s repertoire for almost a decade. Now she’s back...and soon entangled in a web of espionage, murder and suspicion that threatens to destroy what she holds most dear. Hired to produce a candyfloss profile of Chicago-based aviation giant, Delcroft, Ellie is dismayed when company VP Charlotte Hollander, the architect of a new anti-drone system for Delcroft, trashes the production and cancels the project. Ellie believes Hollander was spooked by shots of a specific man in the video footage. But when Ellie arranges to meet the man to find out why, he’s killed by a subway train before they can talk. In the confusion, she finds a seemingly abandoned pack of cigarettes with a flash drive inside that belonged to the now dead man.
Ellie has the drive’s contents decrypted, but before long she discovers she’s under surveillance. Suspecting Delcroft and the ambitious Hollander are behind it, she’s unconvinced when Hollander tells her the dead man was a Chinese spy. Ellie and her boyfriend Luke try to find answers, but they don’t realize how far into the dangerous echelons of hidden power they have ventured. When Ellie’s daughter is kidnapped and Charlotte Hollander disappears, it becomes terrifyingly clear that Ellie is in way over her head, and more lives are on the line, including her own.
The sun winked off the frozen surface of Lake Michigan the next morning as I drove south to McCormick Place. During one of the most brutal Chicago winters in decades, the smudge of purple clouds tinged with pink and gold hinted that the fury of winter might—just might—have peaked. I parked in the overpriced lot, bought half a dozen cups of overpriced coffee, and carried them into the massive exhibit hall.
The crew was setting up lights and shades, and Mac was behind the camera framing shots. MacArthur J. Kendall III owns a production studio in Northbrook. He started out shooting sweet sixteens, bar mitzvahs, and weddings, but parlayed that into corporate videos. We’ve worked together for nearly twenty years, from the days of two-inch video, to one-inch, three-quarter, and now digital.
Mac’s name, salt-and-pepper hair, button-down shirts, and penny loafers scream WASP, but the nasty scar running down his left cheek saves him from total Episcopalian infamy. He tells people he was attacked by a Mexican drug lord and made me swear never to reveal it was from a car accident.
I went up to him. “What do you need me to do?”
“You have the shot list?”
I nodded and pulled it out of the canvas bag that doubles as my purse. We went over it. He gestured to the main area of the Delcroft booth, which featured a large projection screen with the company logo on both sides, and about twenty chairs arranged theater-style.
“What time’s the first presentation?”
Teresa Basso Gold, our client contact, had told us to be prepared for a series of short remarks by Delcroft executives touting the company’s latest innovations.
I checked my watch. Barely six thirty. “The doors don’t open until nine, and Teresa said not to expect anyone until ten. But you can get some establishing shots, if you want.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Mac said and strolled over to confer with the crew.
Hi. I’m Libby Hellmann, author of the Ellie Foreman Mysteries. JUMP CUT, which was released March 1, is the 5th Ellie mystery, but Ellie has been on an extended vacation since the 4th novel. Make that a 10 year vacation. As you might imagine, she was not pleased. I will say this: when I discovered Ellie in An Eye For Murder (the first book), she seemed to spring fully formed on the page. In fact, it was as if she'd been waiting for me to find her, her daughter, her father, and -- well -- actually, she is insisting on telling you herself. So…. heeeeere’s Ellie!
Hi. I'm Ellie Foreman, a video producer in Chicago. And since many of you probably don’t know me or where I came from, I’d like to use this opportunity to introduce myself to you. Hey… if I left it to Libby, she’d wait another 10 years before doing it.
So here goes.
First, the backstory: I used to work in broadcast news. I was a producer for an investigative unit for a Chicago TV station, a job I loved. But as luck and bad karma would have it, I produced a story about restaurants and health inspectors being paid off (I'm sure you're shocked... shocked to hear that kind of thing happens in Chicago), and I made a teensy weensy mistake. One of the restaurants I mentioned by name turned out NOT to be paying off inspectors. They were paying off other suppliers—perhaps you can guess whom-- but not city health inspectors. Bottom line, I was fired. Which might be why I was sensitive about being fired in Jump Cut. But that’s another story.
After my stint in TV news, I turned to industrial and commercial video production. Luckily, Chicago is one of the country’s biggest markets for that kind of work, and I have survived – more or less.
The “less” being when I discovered my husband sleeping with his associate (He’s a lawyer). In our bedroom. That was the end of our marriage, which needed to end, even if I hadn’t caught him cheating. But it propelled me into single motherhood. My daughter, Rachel, who was twelve at the time, thought she understood. But that didn’t diminish her pain, and, of course, she acted out for a while. Things were kind of dicey. For ten years. But that’s in the past. I think.
Libby discovered me one day when I was picking up Rachel from school in the middle of all this tumul (did I mention I’m Jewish?) Rachel got in the car, glanced over at me, and asked, “Mom… what’s oral sex?”
I still don’t know how Libby overheard us, but she did, and she made that the first sentence in what eventually became An Eye For Murder. Which led to three more novels before Libby said, “Hold on. You need a break.” Which she conveniently gave me. For ten years.
Really, Libby, ten years?
Okay. Now I’m going to tell you something Libby might not want revealed publicly. In fact, I should probably check with her before I tell you, but I am known to be impulsive. So here goes.
Libby had written a police procedural, featuring two male cops before she discovered me. She had an agent who tried to sell the novel, but wasn’t successful. A few months went by, and he called Libby on the phone.
“Libby,” he said (See? I overhear conversations too), “I’ve been having a tough time selling your books.”
“I know,” she replied. “But don’t worry. I’m writing a sequel. And it’s better. And crisper. And the characters are more sharply delineated. And—”
He cut her off. “No. I don’t think you understand. I can’t sell this series. I think you need to change your characters, change your plots, change your voice. And change agents. Because I don’t feel I can represent you anymore.”
Libby was crushed. She cried. And drank a bottle of wine. And when she picked herself off the floor, she had to decide whether to continue with this writing “thing.” Fortunately, she had written a couple of short stories while she was writing novels, and one of them, “The Day Miriam Hirsch Disappeared” won a couple of contests. It was about (ahem) a 16-year-old boy named Jake Foreman, who had a crush on Miriam Hirsch, an actress in the Yiddish Theater. The theater was down in Lawndale, which was once a thriving Jewish neighborhood but became ground zero during the 1968 riots (and still hasn’t completely recovered).
But Miriam only had eyes for Skull, who may or may not have been a gangster. The story takes place in 1938, and its subtext was – well, you’ll have to read it yourself. It’s widely available and very reasonably priced.
Anyway, as I understand it, Libby had one of those “eureka” moments and decided to move the characters in that story 60 years forward in time. Jake was no longer 16 – he was in his ‘70’s. And he now had a daughter. Who is me. And I have a daughter. Who is Rachel. We don’t live in Lawndale anymore; Dad lives in Skokie, and I live in a small village on the North Shore.
So that is where I came from. I’ll leave it to you whether to believe us or not. After all, Libby writes fiction. And I’m just a product of her imagination.
Bottom line: it doesn’t really matter. If you enjoyed this conversation, I’m happy. And to tell the truth, I’m glad she discovered me. And we both hope you’ll try Jump Cut. It’s a pretty awesome story, if I do say so myself.
Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Twelve novels and twenty short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first. She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. *
With the addition of Jump Cut in 2016, her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 4-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and three stand-alone historical thrillers that Libby calls her “Revolution Trilogy.” Her latest release, The Incidental Spy, is a historical novella set during the early years of the Manhattan Project at the U of Chicago. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection.
* She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony, twice for Foreword Magazines Book of the Year, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne and has won the Lovey multiple times.
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