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Book Review - 'The Hard Way' by Cathi Stoler

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The Hard Way

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Gamblers are a fickle lot. If there's even a hint of a suggestion that a place is jinxed, they'll up and run like nobody's business, never to return. So when a contest winner from Women Now magazine is murdered at the newly opened January Resort and Casino, all of Las Vegas holds its collective breath. Will owner Jimmy Scanlan be charged with homicide or will he simply lose his shirt? Somebody's out to get him and his most trusted friend P.I. Helen McCorkendale is determined to get to the bottom of things and save him from the slammer, as well as impending bankruptcy.

The clues start to add up, one by one. The International Diamond Dealers Consortium is holding a convention at Jimmy's casino. The victim, Dawn Chapman, was poisoned when someone laced her gin and tonic with diamond dust, a modus operandi akin to swallowing ground-up glass. Jimmy's main rival on the Strip is the owner of The Florentine, who tried to keep Jimmy from setting up shop, but failed. His security detail has ties to the consortium, but he begged off holding the convention, claiming that a movie was being shot at his casino and he couldn't accommodate their needs, making it more than suspicious that he was setting Jimmy up to take the fall.

Helen has her work cut out for her, but she's ready and willing to take on some of the richest diamond dealers in the world. They don't want their dirty secrets coming to light, but she doesn't let anything dissuade her from investigating their back room dealings. She knows that she's walking on dangerous ground, looking into the de Groot family, one of the most prestigious in the diamond trade. They recently acquired a red diamond believed to be lost after Tsar Nicholas was executed during the Russian Revolution. With its sudden reappearance, more than a few jewel thieves are looking to steal it for themselves.

Was Dawn Chapman one of those thieves? When her criminal background is revealed, Helen begins to question the motives of this supposed jewelry store worker from Cincinnati. Who was she really and how come she didn't want to visit Las Vegas? Did she cross paths with someone in Jimmy's hotel before she turned up dead? Was it someone from the consortium or another hustler who wanted her out of the picture when it came to stealing the diamond?

Stoler poses a lot of questions as her narrative thread weaves its way toward a compelling conclusion. Sometimes the good guys win, and sometimes they don't. It takes a mystery writer worthy of her salt to shake things up a bit at the end, and not give readers exactly what they're looking for, but something decidedly more off center, something better. There's nothing worse than figuring a mystery out in the opening pages, and Stoler works in enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing all the way to the final chapter for an ending many won't see coming.

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