Still Lives by Maria Hummel is a look at the LA art world with a mystery thrown in. The story as a whole is unique and the setting (2003 LA) makes it stand out. But it’s not as thrilling as I expected.
The story centers around artist Kim Lord and her groundbreaking new exhibition Still Lives, which is comprised of self-portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women—the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among others. On the night of her opening, Kim is no where to be found. We follow the opening night and following days from the museum editor’s Maggie point of view. She’s close to the investigation as police’s suspicion focuses on Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex.
The setting is very intriguing. First off, I don’t know anything about the LA art scene so I had to Google if the Rocque Museum is real, which it is not. According to this LA Times article, the author Hummel worked as a writer and editor at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which the Rocque stands in for.
In addition to the museum setting, this story takes place during the year 2003 in LA. There’s plenty of non-touristy descriptions of LA neighborhoods, traffic and overall scenery. And the year 2003 is an interesting choice, still close to 9/11 but the technology we use every day was still in infancy. It’s pre-social media and smartphones, which makes it a different story if it would have been told in present time.
I generally was curious about what happened to Kim and I was invested in the characters. The story goes from the inner workings of a museum to Maggie becoming obsessed with the mystery of Kim’s disappearance. She takes it upon herself to find out what happened to Kim.
I’m careful not to give anything away but I will say aspects of the mystery are a bit weak. There aren’t really clues the reader can grasp on their own and there is some unnecessary information that doesn’t really lead anywhere. There is a struggle if this story is trying to be a mystery, a crime thriller or a social commentary on society’s obsession with the abuse of women. It also has the ex-boyfriend relationship aspect too.
That said, I was engaged with Maggie and the mystery. But this one does suffer from too many characters, storylines and finding its focus. I recommend it for those who are interested in: a.) art and the inner working of a museum; b.) LA life.