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American/Cozy Mysteries

Last Lullaby, Denise Hamilton, Pocket Star, $7.99.

Last Lullaby by Denise Hamilton

Denise Hamilton reminds me very much of another favorite author of mine, Sara Paretsky. Her books are absolutely crammed full of ideas, great characters, tight writing and suspense. Her central character, Eve Diamond, unlike V.I. Warshawski, is much less prickly and doesn't get on so many people's nerves, but she's just as ready to get into a scrape or take a chance on someone if it's for the right reason. Their hearts are in the same place. Unlike V.I., Eve is not a P.I. but a journalist for the LA Times, and like Paretsky herself, Diamond brings not Paretsky's knowledge of the insurance field but her own reporter's knowledge of the LA Times. Both women's experiences add weight and heft to the experiences and authenticity of their main characters' lives.

Both writers demand that a reader hit the ground running and keep up with them as they deliver whip smart, breathless narratives that keep you as a reader tied up in knots until the end of the book. In this novel, Eve has gone to the airport with an INS agent to observe how airport security works, post 9/11. As she discovers, it doesn't always work very well - Eve has only been at the airport for a little while when gunfire erupts and it turns out that a baby - one she had noticed being brought in by a beautiful Asian woman - has disappeared. While crime reporters take over the criminal aspect of the story, Eve follows up on the story of the baby, using her inside contact with the INS to get her further along the way. Her personal life is just as complicated - the man she met in the last novel, Sugar Skull, is at the moment off limits because of an upcoming trial, and her ex-boyfriend (the one who got away) turns up out of the blue, looking not quite right and seeming to know things he shouldn't.

Hamilton is more than adept at tying together the many complicated threads that make up this wonderful book, and the end is more than satisfying. If she is a relative of Sara Paretsky, she's also channeling another of my favorite writers - Ross MacDonald - with her ability to paint a picture of a complex and corrupt family. She's a young writer, though, and she's made these old formulas her own by giving them modern twists and details that plant her books firmly in the 21st century. This is a new writer to watch.

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