Still Lives: A Novel (Paperback)

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Staff Reviews


Set in the art scene of the early 2000s, this book brings an impressive new perspective to the tradition of the dark Los Angeles-based thriller. As in many of my favorite novels of the genre, the protagonist in Still Lives encounters mysterious events in her day-to-day life that lead her (and the reader) to confront big-picture mysteries of human behavior. Maria Hummel is an excellent poet and she certainly brings that skill to the description and dialogue, but the rich cast of characters and the nuanced architecture of the story are what stand out most in this powerful mystery novel. 

— Tom

Description


Twelve shocking paintings. Eleven famous murders. One missing artist . . . and one woman driven to find her—this Reese's Book Club x Hello Sunshine Selection is a “stunning achievement” (Los Angeles Times).

Kim Lord is an avant–garde figure, feminist icon, and agent provocateur in the L.A. art scene. Her groundbreaking new exhibition Still Lives is comprised of self–portraits depicting herself as famous, murdered women―the Black Dahlia, Chandra Levy, Nicole Brown Simpson, among many others―and the works are as compelling as they are disturbing, implicating a culture that is too accustomed to violence against women.

As the city’s richest art patrons pour into the Rocque Museum’s opening night, all the staff, including editor Maggie Richter, hope the event will be enough to save the historic institution’s flailing finances.

Except Kim Lord never shows up to her own gala.

Fear mounts as the hours and days drag on and Lord remains missing. Suspicion falls on the up–and–coming gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, who happens to be Maggie’s ex. A rogue’s gallery of eccentric art world figures could also have motive for the act, and as Maggie gets drawn into her own investigation of Lord’s disappearance, she’ll come to suspect all of those closest to her.

Set against a culture that often fetishizes violence, Still Lives is a page–turning exodus into the art world’s hall of mirrors, and one woman’s journey into the belly of an industry flooded with money and secrets.

“It’s a thrilling mystery that will leave you wondering which characters you can and can’t trust . . . There’s a twist at the end that still keeps us up at night, it's THAT good.” —Reese Witherspoon (A Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine Selection)

About the Author


MARIA HUMMEL is a novelist and poet. Her novel, Still Lives, was a Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club pick, Book of the Month Club pick, and BBC Culture Best Book of 2018, and has been optioned for television and translated into multiple languages. She is also the author of, most recently, Lesson in Red; as well as Motherland, a novel, a San Francisco Chronicle Book of the Year; and House and Fire, winner of the APR/Honickman Poetry Prize. She has worked and taught at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Stanford University; and the University of Vermont. She lives in Vermont with her husband and sons.

Praise For…


“It’s a thrilling mystery that will leave you wondering which characters you can and can’t trust . . . There’s a twist at the end that still keeps us up at night, it's THAT good.” —Reese Witherspoon (A Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine Selection)

A REESE'S BOOK CLUB x HELLO SUNSHINE Selection
A BOOK OF THE MONTH Selection
An Amazon Best Mystery/Thriller of the Year
Named a Best Book to Read by TimeEntertainment WeeklyBustleBuzzfeedThe Daily BeastThe GuardianRefinery29, and more. 


Praise for Still Lives

“[A] mysterious page turner.” —TIME, 1 of 22 New Books to Read This Summer

“Mystery and murder cloud this feminist story set in the heart of Los Angeles’ art scene. When an avant–garde artist goes missing on the day her groundbreaking exhibition opens, the story spins out in many provocative directions.” —Entertainment Weekly, 1 of 20 New Books to Read in June

“It’s a thrilling mystery that will leave you wondering which characters you can and can’t trust . . . There’s a twist at the end that still keeps us up at night, it's THAT good.” —Reese Witherspoon (A Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine Selection)

“A suspenseful, splashy story about fame, sex, and how our culture views women’s bodies . . . I also loved that it tackled the sticky subject of how women are portrayed in art, culture, and the media—and the consequences of those portrayals. This is a thrilling book, and a much–needed one. Read it and you’ll see what I mean.” —Book of the Month

“[A] splendid art–world thriller . . . Ms. Hummel captures characters in a single stroke . . . Having herself worked in a museum, she speaks with authority of that sealed world . . . Still Lives is both savvy and lyrical—the perfect beach read for either coast.” —The Wall Street Journal

“This is not only a satisfying mystery, but also an ambitious, intelligent and often uncomfortable study of gender, violence and art.” —The Guardian

“Yet while Still Lives, evidently, has a heck of a hook to draw in a wide swath of readers, the book isn’t quite the escapist thriller the bones of the plot might indicate. Indeed, it’s a provocative book that digs deeply into art’s history of depicting women brutally and fetishistically, and that probes difficult questions about Western culture’s view and treatment of women’s bodies. It manages an impressive twofer: It sucks you into a compelling story, before forcing you to contemplate the big, uncomfortable ideas it’s considering. It’s a fresh choice for Reese’s Book Club, to be sure.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Reese Witherspoon's new book club pick is a dark, feminist thriller, and you're not going to want to miss it.” —Bustle

“Maria Hummel's Still Lives is moody and restless, propelled by a gradually intensifying sense of unease. Hummel envelops the reader in the LA art scene . . . Her journey illuminates the misogyny which allows a culture to turn murdered women into objects for consumption.” —BuzzFeed, 1 of 30 Exciting New Books to Add to your Summer Reading List

“Hummel’s fourth novel shows her genius for layering levels of meaning, and her sophisticated sense of the mercurial, sometimes corrupt art world, from dealers to wealthy patrons, including those so secretive they want to purchase work (and drive up an artist’s worth) without leaving a trail . . . Maggie’s stake in this story makes for unrelenting suspense.” —BBC Culture, 1 of 10 Books to Read in June

“A delicious Los Angeles noir that combines the glitz and glamor of fine art with the grit and grime of crime and sexual objectification, Still Lives is a thought–provoking novel packaged in one hell of a mystery.” —The Daily Beast, One of The Best Summer Beach Reads of the Year

“Maria Hummel’s novel is classic noir made modern.” —Refinery29, One of the Best Books of June 2018

“Before Reese Witherspoon made it her August book club pick, this reader fell head–over–heels for Maria Hummel’s captivating thriller Still Lives. A pulsating mystery about a famous artist who goes missing on the opening night of her biggest exhibit yet, this tense narrative explores not only the dark underbelly of the Los Angeles art scene, but our culture’s disturbing obsession with violence against women, and I savored every last word of it.” —Bustle, 1 of 5 Thrillers & Mysteries That Made Me Fall in Love with the Genre Again

“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.” —Los Angeles Times

Still Lives, both the fictional exhibit and the actual book itself, make an important statement about how our society too often fetishizes violence against women. Plus, it’s the perfect companion to this week’s other big art–centric story: Ocean’s 8.” —HelloGiggles, 1 of 15 Books Coming Out This Week That You Don't Want to Miss

“Witherspoon loves a good thriller—and so do we. If you haven't picked up Hummel's fast–paced mystery yet, consider it the perfect winter break read.” —Apartment Therapy

“[A] spellbinding new novel . . . No doubt comparisons to Raymond Chandler’s best work will rain down upon Still Lives, dotted as it is with trenchant observations of LA and the human condition. Like Chandler, Hummel is capable of limning out a ripping yarn replete with high fashion, high finance and high society . . . And not unlike another master of the mystery, Erle Stanley Gardner, Hummel includes an intellectually satisfying Perry Mason moment that also provides an interesting twist. 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.” —BookPage

“Does your book club love art, feminism, and a riveting mystery? If so, Still Lives is the ideal novel to discuss over a glass of wine and some snacks . . . Book clubs will love dissecting the gender commentary and the interpersonal relationships in Maria Hummel’s novel.” —Bookish, A June Book Club Pick

“There's so much to recommend about Maria Hummel's Still Lives. It's a page–turner, for one. There's also some profound commentary on art and society—and, almost magically, she does it without sacrificing the pure story. The setting—the Los Angeles art scene—is cool, a little foreign–feeling, and really fun to read about. In a mystery, setting can lift the story to a higher realm. Such is the case in Still Lives.” —Omnivoracious

“Within Still Lives, the new novel by Maria Hummel (Motherland, Wilderness Run), is a taut thriller with enough compelling elements for a propulsive book . . . 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. The more Hummel settles into the plot machinations the better the novel gets, as the hazy ideological questions and confusing passages fall away . . . Hummel engages with complicated and challenging questions about the meaning and impact of art that depicts violence, and she writes a hell of an ending.” —Los Angeles Review of Books

“One of the smartest thrillers I’ve read in a long time . . . 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.” —Adison Godfrey, BookMark, WPSU

Still Lives [is] the fast–paced feminist thriller about the L.A. art world you don't want to miss this summer . . . 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 . . . Still Lives is a electrifying mystery, one that crackles with suspense and intrigue. But it is not just an exploration of the shady underside of the L.A. art scene, or a warning about the dangerous combination of fame, money, and sex, and it is certainly not just a titillating tale about a missing woman. Like the fictional exhibit it was named after, Still Lives is an indictment of how women's bodies are treated by a society that is determined to control and consume them, and it's so much more than a story. Because when it comes to fear, anxiety, violence, and abuse, as Maggie puts it, 'It's not a story to us,' it's an experience we face every day.” —Bustle

“Her prose packs both a lyrical punch and evokes the authenticity to make the work truly sing. The tapestry woven by Hummel in these pages is as much an elegiac homage to the slain women depicted in the Still Lives collection as it is a literary thriller. The novel provides both intense, page–turning plot and poignant social introspection, especially in regard to the media fetishization of the killings of beautiful women, and how their deaths have come to define their legacy.” —The Coachella Review

“The careful characterizations of the players . . . 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.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A very satisfying page–turner and a selection last year for Reese Witherspoon‘s Hello Sunshine book club, Maria Hummel’s murder mystery novel shines a light on the behind–the–scenes workings of a (fictional) major art museum in Los Angeles. While the whodunnit keeps the plot moving, Hummel also takes time to illuminate how women are portrayed as stationary objects (still lives, if you will) in both art and the media—notably through the media and public’s fascination with young women as murder victims throughout history.” —Rachel King, Fortune, 1 of 7 Novels to Read on Your Summer Travels

“In this taut take on noir, misogyny, and the art of responsible storytelling, Hummel (Motherland, 2014, etc.) 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.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Hummel’s novel ultimately offers an intriguing insider’s view into a high–stakes, turbulent industry, from peculiar artists to fabulous exhibitions. With deliberate pacing increasing the tension, the story line revolving around the public’s fascination with graphic crimes against women serves as a chilling reminder that such violence continues to occur in many forms.” —Library Journal

“Hummel . . . presents a polished, droll, and provocative art–world thriller . . . With a cast of strong and complicated female characters, headed by a determined, reckless, funny, and imperiled amateur sleuth, Hummel crafts a shrewd and suspenseful inquiry into womanhood and the dark side of the art market, punctuated by striking variations on identity, portraiture, and 'still lives.'“ —Booklist

“The book is both murder mystery and social commentary, and likely to resonate with anyone who has tried to redefine themselves in a new city far from home . . . Though Still Lives critiques the societal obsession with violence and death, particularly death of women, it is also a story about the opportunities one gains by flinging oneself into a new environment. It's about trying on masks and deciding which to keep, or which most resembles one's own face.” —Seven Days

“[A] suspenseful and profound novel . . . This suspenseful crime novel has echoes of far more profound questions than 'who done it?' though: What is the role of women in the art world? Objects? Artists? How do we view women in our society at large? What is truly dangerous? SoCal readers will appreciate Hummel’s insider view of L.A., too. Not just her portrayal of the sparkling L.A. art scene, informed by her days working at MOCA, but a deep understanding of the 'real' city: sun–bleached, peeling reality. “ —Whittier Daily News, 1 of 5 Summer Beach Reads

Still Lives offers its readers that delicious combination of entertainment and brilliance. It's at once profound and suspenseful, and while the plot kept me up nights (the ending had me gasping in surprise!), the book as a whole asks important questions about art and representation and how we, as a culture, objectify and endanger and victimize women. Maria Hummel has written a remarkable, relevant, and necessary novel.” —Edan Lepucki, author of Woman No. 17 and the New York Times bestselling California

“There’s nothing I like better than a well–written page–turner about the art world, and Maria Hummel has delivered this and more with her new literary thriller, Still Lives. Flawed characters abound as do clever plots and subplots along with irresistible peeks into hidden chambers of the L.A. art scene. Riveting.” —B.A. Shapiro, New York Times bestselling author of The Art Forger and The Muralist

“A gripping mystery set inside the world of contemporary art, Still Lives is the kind of book we all hope to stumble upon: the perfect combination of terrific prose and compelling storytelling. Maria Hummel has delivered the smartest, most original page–turner I've read in a long time.” —Maggie Shipstead, author of Astonish Me and the New York Times bestselling Seating Arrangements

“While her protagonist investigates the disappearance of a major artist, Maria Hummel runs a shrewd parallel investigation into culture, gender, violence, and art. Still Lives is a propulsive, carefully crafted mystery with real thematic focus and heft.” —Chris Bachelder, author of The Throwback Special, finalist for the National Book Award

“As gritty and glittering as the L.A. art world it depicts, Maria Hummel’s latest novel soars into the sun–swept heights of fame and beauty, then plunges us into violence. In Still Lives, Hummel does what she does best: delves with sensitivity and wit into complex, intertwined lives, lives that strain the frames that enclose them. Intelligent, vivid, and impeccably paced, this thrilling novel forces us to confront how dangerous art can be.” —Kirstin Valdez Quade, author of Night at the Fiestas

“In Still Lives, Maria Hummel delivers not only a deftly plotted mystery, but also a rich and timely meditation on violence, authenticity, and the cool and deceptive exteriors of modern Los Angeles.” —Jim Gavin, author of Middle Men
Product Details
ISBN: 9781640092013
ISBN-10: 1640092013
Publisher: Counterpoint
Publication Date: June 4th, 2019
Pages: 304
Language: English