It’s 1974 and Ellie Walford Russell is doing fine, except for the fact that her husband is missing and his girlfriend is dead.
Ellison Walford Russell is a married housewife and artist living in Kansas City during the early summer of 1974. Following her desire to paint has left her in the midst of an unpleasant marriage, held together for the sake of her young teen daughter, Gracie. Ellison was raised in the upper fringe of society, where expensive designer clothing and tennis games at the club are the usual topics of discussion, the place where her domineering mother Frances and her estranged husband Henry would like her to stay. But when something happens to one of the least-liked women in town, even Ellison’s passion for art won’t be able to protect her from the dark and swirling clouds of gossip and intrigue.
Julie Mulhern’s book is a well-handled whodunit cozy mystery that thoroughly entertains. The main character, Ellison, or “Ellie,” sees colors and patterns and as an artist describes things using a rich and vivid vocabulary. It’s 1974, a time period when many wives struggled to be independent of their husbands and some husbands, like Ellie’s, didn’t like the change. Mulhern does a great job in setting an accurate sense of the historic period, complete with references to drinking a specific diet soda, discussing Watergate at cocktail parties, and women who might wear purple Muumuu dresses. But the era doesn’t become the centerpiece. Rather, it’s more like important background discussion, never distracting from the plot at hand but reminding readers of the changes for women during that time period, changes mirrored in Ellie’s personal growth. Ellie’s mother, Frances, and young daughter, Gracie, serve as other fine and subtle examples of society’s shift across a single generation.
The men in Mulhern’s work also have an interesting time. Ellie’s husband, unable to accept her growing artistic skills and independence, turns his controlling impulses into ones of humiliation and infidelity. Is it any wonder that Ellie’s world begins to spin out of control when her husband’s mistress is murdered and he is nowhere to be found? It seems everyone has something to say and advice to give, as more and more things go wrong.
Two men, in particular, are at odds each certain they know what Ellie should be doing. One is an old friend, a lawyer, a handsome man her mother would like to see her date. His name is Hunter Tafft, a tall and distinguished fellow who is a member of the same club. The other is a police detective, Officer A. Smith, with deep brown eyes and deeper convictions, a man who makes her blush when she’d least like to. Using this trio of characters, Mulhern sets Ellie not only in the middle between two strong-minded men but between two levels of society and two levels of the law. The tension is fruitful.
Overall, The Deep End is a book that will engage the reader in every chapter as they seek to solve the many crimes, both present and implied. Ellie Russell is a colorful person in more ways than one, and the other characters are more than a background to her, adding depth to the story in unusual ways.
Funny, compassionate and endearing “The Deep End” is a well-crafted cozy, with just a touch of the exotic life, murder and mayhem, and the Bundt cake brigade to hook readers into devouring the rest of Julie Mulhern’s series, The Country Club Murders.