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Hart, Ellen (b. 1949)  
page: 1  2  

Hallowed Murder introduced readers to restaurateur, amateur sleuth, and out lesbian Jane Lawless. She and her best friend, theater director Cordelia Thorne, have teamed to solve more than a dozen crimes, most recently in Sweet Poison (2008). Some of the books focus specifically on gay issues, but others do not.

Hart's second detective series debuted in 1994 with This Little Piggy Went to Murder. Her sleuth in these novels--now numbering eight--is Sophie Greenway, a married heterosexual woman.

Hart's writing has been compared to that of P. D. James, the mystery author whom she has said that she most admires, as well as to Ruth Rendell and Agatha Christie.

Hart sees a similarity between her work and Christie's in that her "books don't have a lot of blood and gore in them." She adds that "sex may be present, but it's mostly handled off the page."

Hart differs significantly from Christie, however, in her perception of society. Whereas Christie sees "the village as a bastion of good, wholesome values" in which something evil occasionally occurs, Hart views the criminal as "a symptom, a reflection of a sick village/society." Because of her concern with characters and their motivation, she considers her mystery novels "whydunits" rather than "whodunits."

When Hart invented the Jane Lawless character she made her an out but celibate lesbian still mourning the death of her lover. Although Hart eventually worked in a couple of romances for Lawless (one a long-distance relationship), she points out that in the "cozy" style of mystery novels--be they gay or straight--one tends not to find sex scenes. She further notes that because of the necessity for tightly-paced writing in mysteries it is essential that every character and relationship--including love stories--must have a role integral to the plot. Adding recurring characters complicates the task.

Hart sees social value in gay and lesbian mystery fiction. She has stated that "our community has been starved to see itself reflected in popular culture." Contemporary gay and lesbian detective characters offer a positive image instead of the pernicious stereotype of the "twisted souls" of earlier crime fiction who usually wound up as either the victim or the murderer. Hart hopes that modern gay and lesbian "mystery novels will become some of the most important bridges over which straight society will walk toward a more complex and mature understanding of who we are."

Although the Jane Lawless series was initially niche-marketed as lesbian fiction, the novels now attract a large crossover readership as well. Hart welcomes her growing audience, opining that "anyone, as long as they aren't , can read and enjoy my books."

Nevertheless, she has a special bond with her glbtq readers. "I'm always so incredibly moved when a gay person comes up to me at a book signing and tells me that they've given one of my mysteries to a parent (or a sister, or a brother) to read, and that it helped them open up a discussion about who they are," she has said. "It makes a simple piece of commercial fiction very powerful indeed."

The appreciation of glbtq readers for Hart's writing is evidenced by the accolades bestowed upon her. A frequent nominee for the annual Lambda Literary Awards, she has earned top honors for Best Lesbian Mystery an impressive five times--and Jane Lawless shows no signs of retiring.

Linda Rapp

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literature >> Overview:  Awards

The contemporary literary awards given specifically to honor glbtq books may be seen as an outgrowth of the modern American gay rights movement, so intertwined are they with the movement for equality.

literature >> Overview:  Mystery Fiction: Gay Male

In the decades since Stonewall, gay male mystery fiction has burgeoned in United States, both in quantity and in quality, and has increasingly been issued by mainstream presses.

literature >> Overview:  Mystery Fiction: Lesbian

Although most lesbian mystery fiction reflects a political stance, the most effective lesbian crime novels have been those that have most enthusiastically embraced the need to entertain the reader.

literature >> Overview:  Novel: Lesbian

From the great modernist writers of the 1920s and 1930s to the pulp writers of the 1950s to the lesbian writers of today, lesbian novelists have had a powerful impact on the lesbian community.

literature >> Forrest, Katherine V.

Writer and editor Katherine V. Forrest has played a major role in bringing lesbian fiction to the forefront of the mystery and science fiction genres.

literature >> McDermid, Val

Award-winning mystery writer Val McDermid writes three successful series of novels, including one featuring lesbian investigative reporter Lindsay Gordon.

literature >> Redmann, J. M.

J. M. Redmann, the Lambda Award-winning creator of the New Orleans mystery series featuring Micky Knight, writes richly textured novels focused on issues of power and family.

literature >> Saints and Sinners Literary Festival

The Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, an annual glbtq-themed literary festival held each May in New Orleans, has become one of the world's most influential alternative literary festivals.


Forrest, Katherine V. "Wire Tap: A Conversation between LBR's editor, Katherine V. Forrest, and Ellen Hart." Lambda Book Report 8 (November 1999): 10

Habich, John. "A Way with Murder." Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (August 25, 2002): 1E.

Keehnen, Owen. "Ellen Hart Sheds Light on Her Mystery Writing." (2003).

Zimmerman, R. D. "Hart Goes Hollywood." Lambda Book Report (March 2001): 11.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Hart, Ellen  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated May 19, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


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