Still Lives by Maria Hummel – REVIEW
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 failing 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.
“The sad truth about small towns [is] how they can smash down the person who dares to stand up.”
Quercus kindly granted my request for a copy of this thriller in exchange for an honest review.
I wanted to read Still Lives after seeing that it was the August pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club. I love Reese Witherspoon and she’s made some fantastic choices for her book club so far so I trust her recommendations. I’m pleased to say this glamorous and carefully-crafted mystery definitely didn’t disappoint. Set in the LA art world, the mystery revolves around the disappearance of controversial artist Kim Lord, whose most recent exhibition explores society’s fetishisation of female murder victims. This examination is threaded throughout the story and was definitely the most thought-provoking element for me, with the author constantly challenging the reader to question how our culture treats women.
“Most people look at the world, but they don’t watch it. They don’t try to see what’s coming at them.”
After a slow start, I found the mystery engrossing and the prose engaging. Most of the action takes place over one week and there was an increasing sense of unease as it seemed that none of the characters was trustworthy. The fascinating insight into the workings of the LA art world was particularly interesting and I learnt a lot of new information about a subject I don’t know much about. Issues such as super collectors had me completely intrigued and eager to learn more. Additionally, the glamorous yet gritty setting of LA was like another character, lending the story an almost cinematic feel and enhancing the mystery.
“Make your life about the things and the people that matter to you, the ones worth saving. Keep them well, and let the dead go. The dead already know their ending.”
The characters were complex and well fleshed out despite quite a few of them being unlikeable. The book is written from the point of view of 28-year-old Maggie Richter, a museum editor who moved to LA from a small town. I found her musings about identity and her place in the world to be very relatable, and the female dynamics were realistically portrayed, especially Maggie’s friendship with Yegina and her dislike of Kim. Maggie’s investigation had me constantly questioning who she could trust, and I honestly didn’t guess the ending. Overall, this was a solid thriller that stands out due to its insightful questions and classic style. I would definitely recommend this if you enjoy high-quality mysteries.