Savage Garden

Denise Hamilton is the female author who most nearly made it onto David Montgomery's "top ten" detective novels list. I have enjoyed her previous books since reading her first, The Jasmine Trade, upon its initial UK publication as part of an Orion "new authors" promotion. Eve Diamond, an investigative journalist with the LA Times, struggles to make and keep a career in a city hypersensitive to ethnic and ethical tensions, and is as determined as hell to get to the bottom of things. The plot and outcome of The Jasmine Trade was original and moving– all in all a great debut.

 

Savage Garden
Denise Hamilton

Although I have certainly enjoyed the subsequent Eve Diamond novels, which have built further on these themes, none of them has surpassed the first, and I am wondering if they are beginning to tail off a bit into formula. Savage Garden is once again set against the background of Eve's relationship with Latino boyfriend Silvio,a subplot that has got stuck, and hence irritating. Silvio is a cipher as in previous books: I think this is to keep the reader on edge wondering if he's going to turn out to be involved in the crime, but in fact it just makes him a non-character.

In Savage Garden, Eve is now more established at the paper; she is lumbered with an intern, hired on an "equal opportunities" programme. Eve's hypocritical superiors are pleased to have found an apparently ideal candidate but want Eve to keep a close eye on her to protect them from the possibility of a "Jayson Blair"-style plagiarism scandal. As ever, the author handles the politics of the newspaper, and more generally of Eve's struggle to stay on, let alone climb, the greasy pole, excellently.

However, the plot isn't that great, depending too much on people not telling Eve things until the second or third time she asks them. Silvio's silence/ambivalence is particularly unbelievable.  The denouement relies on the old WIP (woman in peril) device about three times over, and when it is all sorted, stretches it a bit.

But I don't mean to sound grudging. Savage Garden is a perfectly competent, above-average, crime-fiction novel. I would not recommend reading it if you haven't read the earlier books in the series — read The Jasmine Trade first. But if you have read and liked the earlier books, you'll probably like this one too. I hope that Denise Hamilton gets out of the Eve/Silvio rut for the next, though.

Originally posted at Petrona on 21 October 2006.

 

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