Still Lives is at once a gripping and entertaining mystery, and a biting cultural critique that seeks to understand our obsession with the violent deaths of beautiful women ... Reading Still Lives is like being frozen in that feeling of fear, like being stuck in that moment right before the mysterious stranger lurches out from the darkened alley to grab you ... Still Lives doesn't just ask why we are obsessed with female murder victims. It also asks how: how we interpret violence against women, how we consume and commodify it, and how use it as tool of oppression ... an electrifying mystery, one that crackles with suspense and intrigue.
Ms. Hummel captures characters in a single stroke: the art dealer with the 'tan, metallic look' of 'prosthetic limbs, things that are made to look natural but are creepy instead'; the careerist’s wife, 'a predictably pale blonde with a talent for smiling without seeming friendly at all.' Having herself worked in a museum, she speaks with authority of that sealed world: 'The artist-dealer-collector triad is . . . soaked in cash. Most . . . transactions happen behind closed doors.' Still Lives is both savvy and lyrical—the perfect beach read for either coast.
Like Chandler, Hummel is capable of limning out a ripping yarn replete with high fashion, high finance and high society ... It would be damning with faint praise to call Still Lives a contender for best beach read of the year—like calling Pablo Picasso a really good painter—but Still Lives is both that and so much more.
Within Still Lives, the new novel by Maria Hummel (Motherland, Wilderness Run), is a taut thriller with enough compelling elements for a propulsive book. But Hummel’s ambitions are somewhat higher, and it is here where Still Lives experiences turbulence ... Hummel’s prose descriptions of the paintings are somewhat at odds with the moral position that the characters — if not the writer herself — have taken toward these works ... One of the book’s major flaws comes from Hummel’s attempt to heighten the distress its protagonist suffers ... the backstory rings hollow. It feels contrived and mechanical ... Despite this, Still Lives is an effective thriller with a delectable final 100 pages. It reaches an addictive pitch that all books of this ilk aspire to ... Still Lives is an uneven book, but its highs are more than worth the lows along the way.
...a knowing insider’s guide to a Los Angeles not usually seen in novels ... While Still Lives is a deeply affecting examination of how our culture fetishizes female victims of crime — be it in art, news, or publishing — it will also have readers feverishly turning pages to discover the fate of engaging characters who are more than symbols of what’s wrong or right about Los Angeles. It’s a stunning achievement for a writer who perfectly captures an outsider’s ambivalence about the city’s pluses and minuses, and most notably its sensational crimes and the dark angels we make of its victims.
The careful characterizations of the players in the Rocque’s sphere of influence mean that, as the mystery unfolds to reveal them as suspects or victims, the reader feels deep empathy that comes from perceiving them as real people, not plot devices. Hummel builds visceral intimacy around 'women’s oppressive anxiety about [their] ultimate vulnerability' in this often uncomfortable tale about the media’s fetishistic fascination with the violent murders of beautiful women.
In this taut take on noir, misogyny, and the art of responsible storytelling, Hummel balances the glitz and glam of the Los Angeles art world with the town tourists don’t often see, from peeling, postwar bungalows to skid row tent cities and suffering junkies ... This is a whip-smart mystery and a moving meditation on the consumption of female bodies all rolled into one.