Maria Hummel’s “Still Lives” is one of the smartest thrillers I’ve read in a long time.
In the book, Maggie Richter is an editor at the Roque, a museum in L.A. that is busy preparing for the opening night of artist Kim Lord’s exhibition, “Still Lives.” Each painting in “Still Lives” is a depiction of the artist as a famously murdered woman: Nicole Brown Simpson, “the Black Dahlia,” Kitty Genovese... The show is intended to serve as “an indictment of our culture’s obsession with sensationalized female murders.”
But Kim Lord doesn’t show up to her own gala.
As days go by and Kim remains missing, it begins to seem as though she may have become a victim herself. Blame is quickly placed on gallery owner Greg “Shaw” Ferguson, Kim’s current boyfriend and Maggie’s ex. Maggie doesn’t believe Greg is capable of foul play, but evidence found in the basement of his studio suggests otherwise. Could Greg have killed Kim? Or is someone trying to frame him? Maggie decides to take the investigation into her own hands... and puts her life in danger in the process.
“Still Lives” is a gripping page-turner, but it’s also more than that. I appreciate how Hummel--much like Kim Lord--used the art of storytelling to make me consider the ways in which our culture is complicit in violence against women. In the wake of the Me Too movement, I think a book like this is necessary. It prompts readers to look inward at how we view women and how we consume stories about violence against them.
I also loved that this novel brought me into the L.A. art world, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse of an art museum behind the scenes. Since Hummel worked as a writer and editor at L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art, she had the insider knowledge to make this story ring true. I also found myself wishing the exhibitions she described were real. They reminded me of how powerful art can be as a vehicle for social commentary, and as disturbing as many characters found Kim’s exhibition, I think it would be one I’d like to see.
If you like thrillers, you’ll like this book. Once I started reading “Still Lives,” I didn’t want to put it down. I often pride myself on my ability to solve the mystery in thrillers before the author connects the dots for me, yet Hummel was able to surprise me. But read at your own risk. I have to admit Hummel left me on edge, and I caught myself looking over my shoulder more than usual. What’s so terrifying about “Still Lives” is that it’s so real: Kim Lord may be a fictional character, but she’s added to a long list of women who are not.
Reviewer Adison Godfrey is a graduate assistant at WPSU.