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A Hopeless Case    by K. K. Beck order for
Hopeless Case
by K. K. Beck
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 1993 (1992)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Theresa Ichino

The death of Jane da Silva's wealthy uncle comes at a time when she is pondering her life-style. She has lived abroad for years, staying even after the death of her race-driver husband. She still enjoys Europe, but eking out a living as a cabaret singer is beginning to pall; and as she approaches forty, she questions her choices. Thus she welcomes the news that she stands to benefit from eccentric Uncle Harold's will.

There is a catch, of course. Jane will receive the substantial income from her uncle's fortune only if she successfully finds and solves cases for his quixotic Foundation for Righting Wrongs. He believed that people in trouble often cannot afford the detective work they need; hence, the Foundation (which Jane's mother calls the Bureau of Hopeless Cases). Jane is intrigued. She likes people, has a talent for snooping, and is eager for a change. Plus, this is an opportunity to help the deserving. It was all very well for Uncle Harold, who never had to answer to anyone. Unfortunately, Jane is saddled with six elderly, hide-bound trustees who are to decide if her cases meet Uncle's criteria: a deserving individual who can't afford a detective, a case no police force will investigate, avoidance of vulgar publicity or bad taste.

Jane's sympathy is engaged by young Leonora Martin, a talented musician who dreams of attending Juilliard. Leonora's mother died sixteen years ago, after turning over her substantial inheritance to a cult, The Fellowship of the Flame. Was her death an accident, or did the cult hasten her to a higher plane of existence? Jane's tentative efforts provoke extreme reactions. A witness to the events of sixteen years ago is murdered after agreeing to meet Jane; she herself is attacked when she literally stumbles on the body. An anonymous caller tells her to drop the case. Stubbornly Jane persists, and her quest for the truth behind Linda's death brings an unexpected resolution. Unfortunately, the venerable trustees decide that aspects of this case (and Jane's behaviour) are less than refined. She is on probation, but determined to try again.

Beck has created a very likeable heroine who faces a herculean task. As an amateur detective, Jane faces enough challenges, but she is additionally hampered by her uncle's conditions and the rigidity of the trustees. However, Jane is tough and intelligent. She may not have a black belt in martial arts or a large-calibre handgun, but she is quick to recruit muscle and expertise when she needs it. Equally entertaining are her wry observations of American society. After so long abroad, she finds much that is alien in her birth culture. If Jane's other cases are as lively and entertaining, readers are in for a treat.

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