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American/Cozy Mysteries

Savage Garden, Denise Hamilton, Pocket Star, $7.99.

Savage Garden by Denise Hamilton

Denise Hamilton's latest Eve Diamond novel turns out to be not so much a suspense novel, but a close look at the lives of various strong, intelligent women, all somehow twisted in one way or another by ambition or talent or both. I find it astonishing that Denise Hamilton is not a Sara Paretsky devotee, because Eve could surely be V.I.'s smart, slightly cranky daughter, on a mission not for truth and justice but for the L.A. Times. While things are clear cut for V.I., things are never clear cut for Eve - she's as unsure and wavering about things as an actual real person. She can often see both sides of an issue and is never sure which might be the right direction, even when it comes to her love life with the incomparable Silvio (what she's hesitating about here, I'm not really sure). In this novel, her relationship with Silvio becomes one of the main plot points as one after another of Eve's support systems falls away - or do they?

The book begins with the opening night of a play by a genius Hispanic playwright - also a close friend of Silvio's. Eve is looking forward to her evening out when Silvio turns up late and tells her that the leading lady is missing and that Alfonso, the playwright, has asked him to go find her. Reluctantly giving up her dream evening, Eve accompanies Silvio to the leading lady - Catarina's - house. It's empty, with blood on the windowsill, and Eve calls the police, over Silvio's objections. Eve knows what every woman knows - Catarina wouldn't have vanished into thin air without her purse, which is lying open and abandoned on her coffee table.

And so begins Eve's journey where nothing is what it seems to be. Her other cross to bear - along with discovering that Silvio had a brief affair with Caterina - is a hot shot rookie reporter who's supposed to "shadow" Eve. Eve is basically making sure that the reporter knows the ropes, and isn't fabricating stories out of thin air. The rookie is a beautiful young black woman named Felice who seems to have it all: a BMW, a privileged background, and the ambition and talent to take her as far as she can go. Dogged on one side by the haunting ghost of the fabulous, beautiful and mesmerizing Catarina, Eve is dogged on the other by Felice, who seems to want to steal her sources, her thunder and worst of all, her byline. Eve is never sure how to take Felice; never sure is she's lying or stealing sources or helping her out. Eve can't get a handle on Catarina either; the ripples she created in the lives she's left behind are immense, and stretch all the way to playwright Alfonso's unhappy wife, Marisela.

This is a complex novel of interconnected relationships, played out on a very real back drop of the ambitious reporter's hungry life. No-one can fully trust Eve, either: after all, she's a reporter. Eve isn't sure that what Silvio, Felice, and Alfonso are telling her is true, or if they're telling her everything they know, and as you read, you are more and more sucked into Eve's way of thinking. You're not sure either, and that's certainly the mark of a skillful storyteller. Hamilton also has a nice way with prose, too - some of her writing is really lovely. What I missed in this novel that I thought was a strong element in the first three were the interesting sidebars - in Last Lullaby, for example, it was robotic dogs. But since finishing it, I find that the people in this novel and the way it was put together have really stayed with me. Just remember - nothing is what it seems to be in this book. And that's all I'm going to give away.

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