Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond has spent the day at LAX, shadowing a U.S. Customs Supervisor who's got his eye on an incoming flight from Beijing via Seoul and Tokyo. The flight's packed with the usual mass of humanity, ranging from the elegant Asian woman in the raspberry silk suit who emerges from first class carrying a tired toddler, to the scruffy students who have spent the long flight in economy. Suddenly, shots ring out. Three people are dead, including the silk-clad woman. The man who was booked on the flight as the dead woman's husband is missing. And the sad little toddler is left behind. Who is this child? Her passport says she's Japanese, but she doesn't seem to understand the language. Was the dead woman really her mother? Why has the child made five transpacific flights in one year? And why do Customs and Immigration whisk her immediately into hiding? Eve knows she must uncover the answers, even though it means putting herself at risk. Her search takes her from L.A.'s sleazy hotels, cybercafes to the upscale milieu of trendy restaurants and high-powered human-rights lawyers. Nothing is quite what it appears to be, and nobody seems to want Eve to find the child.
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One of the cardinal draws of Denise Hamilton's series about Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond ( The Jasmine Trade, Sugar Skull) has been its at least partial focus on the life and politics inside a big-city newsroom. However, her third novel, Last Lullaby, pretty much abandons that element. Though it's bursting with firepower and duplicity, this tale of lost children, see-no-evil adoptions, and international smuggling sadly blurs the distinctions between Diamond and less sparkling, more conventional private eyes.
While working up a story about the U.S. Customs Service, Diamond is caught in a shootout at the Los Angeles International Airport. By the time lead stops flying, three passengers from an incoming flight out of Beijing are dead and an infant Cambodian girl who'd accompanied them has vanished. Despite her lowly status as a suburban journo, the "flawed and fanciful" young Diamond--who's always had a soft spot for children in trouble--eschews more quotidian assignments in order to concentrate on this rapidly expanding mystery. But solving it could cost her plenty, physically as well as emotionally. It places Diamond in the midst of a tug-of-war between immigration officials (who have taken the little girl into hiding, supposedly for her own protection), profusely armed goons (who'll do almost anything to get her back), and a hero-worshipped immigration attorney with a fondness for robot dogs (who hopes to win political asylum for the toddler). Meanwhile, the reporter must suffer a 10-year-old video-game obsessive with a hate on for the owners of a local cyber café; a former lover who's suddenly stepped back into her life, bringing with him more dangers than delights; and an unexpected pregnancy by Hispanic music promoter Silvio Aguilar. There are so many twists and tensions here, that one can almost hear the credibility stretching as Last Lullaby approaches its fiery culmination.
Hamilton, an ex-Times staffer herself, knows the L.A. scene intimately, and she brings to her fiction a genuine appreciation of it's history, diverse subcultures, and class disparities. Her portrayal of that sun-bleached city as home to illegal immigrants in continual fear of deportation is especially heart-rending. Yet Last Lullaby hits a sour note when it tries to turn Eve Diamond into V.I. Warshawski with a press pass. --J. Kingston PierceAbout the Author:
Denise Hamilton is a writer-journalist whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Cosmopolitan, and The New York Times and is the author of five acclaimed Eve Diamond crime novels, Prisoner of Memory, Savage Garden, Last Lullaby, Sugar Skull, and The Jasmine Trade, all of which have been Los Angeles Times bestsellers. She is also the editor of and a contributor to the short story anthology Los Angeles Noir, winner of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association Award for Best Mystery of 2007. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children. Visit her at www.denisehamilton.com.
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