“Kim Lord is an avant-garde figure, feminist icon, and agent provocateur in the L.A. art scene. Her groundbreaking new exhibition Still Lives is comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women-the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among many others-and the works are as compelling as they are disturbing, implicating a culture that is too accustomed to violence against women.
As the city’s richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum’s opening night, all the staff, including editor Maggie Richter, hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution’s flailing finances.
Except Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala.
Fear mounts as the hours and days drag on and Lord remains missing. Suspicion falls on the up-and-coming gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex. A rogue’s gallery of eccentric art world figures could also have motive for the act, and as Maggie gets drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance, she’ll come to suspect all of those closest to her.
Set against a culture that often fetishizes violence, Still Lives is a page-turning exodus into the art world’s hall of mirrors, and one woman’s journey into the belly of an industry flooded with money and secrets.”
There was something about this book from the offset I wasn’t sure about. I suspected it wouldn’t live up to the type of thrillers I enjoy reading, however, I expected something from it that would blow me away. Both of these suspicions turned out to be accurate. The book deals with a missing artist, and everyone in the art world and the artist’s personal life, is under a microscope as to whether they were involved. Enter Maggie, the central character, who decides to investigate to hopefully save Kim and help her ex.
Maria Hummel is a talented writer; the way she describes the details of characters, their feelings, the novel’s setting and so forth, is really in-depth and of rich quality. She uses illustrative metaphors, similes and word choice that are extremely descriptive, which makes excellent story-telling. For me, I did find Hummel’s style of writing rather long-winded; there was extra embellished details about buildings, past experiences, activities, settings and so on, that it tired me to read the book at times. Some of it felt irrelevant to the plot as well. It wasn’t until page 60-ish, when I really engaged with the book. Before this, I found it quite challenging to get into the story.
I’ll state it now: I’m going to assume every little crime-related detail Hummel describes or illustrates is true, as I don’t have the time to cross-reference facts. I’m sure it would all be accurate though. From this alone, it shows how much effort and time Hummel has put into constructing this story, which is really admirable.
I really liked the setting of the “Rocque”, the art world and L.A. Hummel’s setting really felt like a world within a world, that only those within it are privy to the fun or dark dealings. I felt like an outsider looking in, in more ways than one. The setting and atmosphere of L.A. gave both a bright yet decayed atmosphere. People go to L.A. with hopes and dreams, that don’t necessarily transpire as they’d like.
The book has a handful of characters, who are relayed to the writer through Maggie’s narration. I quite liked Maggie. She hasn’t been my favourite protagonist, but certainly not the worst. I found her annoying at certain points – stripping naked into someone else’s bed!? – but I got over this enough to enjoy the story.
Something I found interesting with this read, in my opinion; there are sub-plots running parallel to the overarching plot. I felt there was a biography of Maggie’s life, in a past-present-future style that other books don’t contain, and a message about female homicides. At certain points, these plots became so entangled, I as a reader became boggled as to whether the blurb’s plot was the actual story, as Maggie’s past is referenced in many chapters, when this is meant to be a mystery about Kim Lord. And it is a mystery about Kim Lord. But there’s another dimension to it that makes it all about Maggie.
Due to this, there’s a depth to this book that requires comprehension. This isn’t just your next pick mystery novel on a TBR shelf. There’s a lot of meaning and thought laced throughout the story; shown through characters, setting, events. I quite liked the overall plot, I liked the ultimate revelation, and the pace and engagement of the last 100 odd pages. I felt the ending was actually quite good too, as it’s very open-ended for discussion. For instance, were those characters right to do this? Were they not? sort of scenario. Overall, I was satisfied with the ending e.g. what happened with Kim, who the culprit was, Maggie and other characters endings etc. I did think it was weird though, that Maggie and Greg didn’t have any closing communication. Hummel didn’t even refer to him sending her a email or anything like that.
I took a couple of days to write this review, to help myself gain perspective and understanding. Looking at this book from multiple angles, I’m rather impressed with Hummel’s book. It would be silly to simply surmise this book as a mystery/thriller novel solely. It’s a profound read, with plots within the plot, and I think Hummel deserves credit for achieving that. The book is very well written, and it took me a week to read this book. I would say it is a challenging read, as I believe it requires reflection to appreciate it’s depth. After deliberating whether to give this 3 or 4 stars, I’ve decided to go with 4 stars on goodreads. I think it’s worth a read, but at the same time, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, because this is the type of book an individual must decide if it sounds like their cup of tea themselves. On the whole, this isn’t the type of book I’d usually pick, and I’d admittedly avoid others like it, but I have to commend Hummel’s novel for its complexity. Is it much of a thriller? I wouldn’t say so, but the missing-person-mystery is pretty decent.
Still Lives by Maria Hummel
Published 5th June 2018
Genre: Mystery, Thriller