Devil's Garden by Ace Atkins. G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin Group (USA) Inc. April 2009. ISBN #: 9780399155369.
Silent screen comedy actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle is in very big trouble! Rolling in some very big money and throwing wild parties with booze (during Prohibition) and babes, he's caught in a party gone way too wild. An uninvited guest, an actress, Virginia Rappe, shows up drunk, parties very briefly and winds up screaming, writhing and tearing off her clothing in an adjacent hotel room, dying very shortly thereafter despite the efforts of some to revive her. Now Roscoe is on trial for manslaughter and the case at first seems clear-cut but has many problems that seem to indicate more than Fatty's hand is at play in this death.
Part of his defense team includes Dashiell ("Sam") Hammett, a gritty Pinkerton detective who's very quick on his feet and mentally astute but who also is suffering from TB he picked up during his WWI Army service. He's also married and about to become a father, a fact not conductive to his poor salary as a detective in the famous Pinkerton Agency. Be that as it may, however, the reader will love how this famous detective is depicted with all his gritty flaws, foibles and charm. Because of who he knows and his ability to work those sources, he discovers innumerable questions about this case that will keep the reader guessing to the very last page.
Why is the famous publisher, Randolph Hearst, so interested in this case? What lies in the checkered past about Virginia Rappe that might indicate she was very sick for some time before she arrived at this fatal bash? Why were parts of her body removed during her autopsy and by whom? Why are so many witnesses being paid to perjure themselves with an expected and scripted testimony? And why is Sam Hammett removed from the case just when he is solidly sure he's on to some facts that would definitely clear Roscoe?
The pace is slow and easy in part, rapid and dangerously thrilling in others as Ace Atkins presents the details about this infamous case in 1920's San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He is faithful in describing the famed detective, Sam or Dashiell Hammett's actions and thinking, not your usual TV crime drama style but presented in a jazzy, gangster-style mode reminiscent of the way things really were in crime scenes and the acting world of that er a. Readers will come to appreciate the ambience of these cities in their plushest and seediest sites and people.
Ace Atkins has done a splendid job and offers the reader a fascinating look into a bygone era of fame and fortune that could be destroyed in the wink of an eye, in a time when criminal investigations were not always on the side of fairness and justice. Very nicely done for sure!