Thursday, May 31, 2018

Still Lives

Still Lives by Maria Hummel
Counterpoint Press: 6/5/18
eBook review copy; 288 pages
ISBN-13: 9781619021112

Still Lives by Maria Hummel is a recommended mystery concerned with who might be responsible for an artist's disappearance.

Maggie Richter, the staff editor at Los Angeles’s Rocque Museum, is attending the opening gala for avant-garde artist Kim Lord's latest show. Lord's self-portraits feature paintings with Lord posed as famous murdered women. Maggie wanted to avoid attending because Lord's boyfriend, Greg Shaw Ferguson, is Maggie's ex. To make matters worse, Greg left Maggie for Lord.  However, when Kim Lord is missing from her own opening gala, something is amiss and the search is on for the controversial artist. When Greg becomes the prime suspect, Maggie begins a low key investigation into Lord's disappearance and the suspects.

The novel works because of Hummel's careful descriptions of the various characters and their concerns. While Lord's show may disgust many of them, they are all ambitious and concerned over the success of the museum and keeping their place in the art world of Los Angeles. Maggie uses her place as an insider along with her training as a journalist to fuel her investigation. The novel does have a very slow start and it takes a while for the pace to pick up and for Maggie's investigation to begin.

The writing is good, but I was surprised Still Lives was chosen as a Book of the Month. Perhaps this is because I had a couple issues with it. It is a good novel, but not quite that good.

Maggie is the narrator, so you get to read many of her thoughts in descriptions, etc. I'll admit right now I had a problem with some of these since they demeaned other people. For example: "Evie in the cheap gray pantsuit and white blouse of a supermarket manager." Really? Why not just say a cheap suit? Why describe it as connected with someone's job - someone who likely doesn't wear a cheap suit? And why have Maggie, as a character, even think of this if she comes from a modest background? And this is just one example.

While the big hook is that the novel is about the "media's fetishistic fascination with the violent murders of beautiful women," I never really felt that was the focus. Lord's art dealt with it and it was discussed in the context of her art work, but in reality a statement was never definitively made. The famous murders were discussed - but I began to feel that Hummel was taking their murders and using them as a plot device to pull in readers. A "message" novel doesn't guarantee a 5 star novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Counterpoint Press.

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