Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Jasmine Trade: Denise Hamilton


Introduction to the novel at the author's web site:
Everything was set. Marina Lu had even ordered designer dresses for the eight bridesmaids who, in several months' time, would have preceded her down the aisle at her painstakingly planned, storybook wedding. But Marina lies dead, alone in her shiny status car, a two-carat diamond engagement ring refracting nothing but another abruptly shattered Los Angeles dream. Was her death merely a carjacking gone bad? Or is there more to the story? 
Marina is Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond's chilling introduction to "parachute kids," the rich Asian teens who live alone in California while their parents run businesses in Hong Kong. Delving into the mysteries surrounding Marina's life and death, Eve stumbles upon a world of unmoored youth and an even more tragic subculture where young immigrants live in virtual slavery.
I initially had some problems with this book. The first half was too slow. I consider the themes very interesting, yet the story was not grabbing my interest. In addition, I don't usually enjoy mysteries featuring amateur sleuths, and journalists fit into that sub-genre in my opinion.  I haven't read a lot of series with journalists as heroines or heroes, so I was trying to broaden my horizons.

Yet, when I hit the midpoint of the book, the story picked up and I got more comfortable with the characters. I liked the picture of Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Hamilton does an excellent job of depicting the cultural diversity of the area and how it affects life in Southern California. Especially in a big city like L.A.

I read one review that liked the story over the development of character; another reviewer stressed that the characters were good but the plot was lacking. So I guess it depends on who is reading the book. I felt that both improved toward the end of the book and that it was a fine effort for a debut novel. There are four other books featuring Eve Diamond. I will be continuing the series to see where it takes her.

This novel also get extra points for being a mystery novel written by a woman with a strong female protagonist. Denise Hamilton is clearly drawing on her own experiences as a journalist for the LA Times; see this essay at her web site.

This post by Maxine at Petrona gives a good overview of Denise Hamilton's books and suggests three other authors with series that feature journalists.

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Publisher:   Scribner, 2001 
Length:       279 pages
Format:       Hardcover
Series:        Eve Diamond #1
Setting:       Southern California
Genre:        Mystery
Source:       I purchased my copy.

18 comments:

  1. Hey Tracy,

    I remember trying to read this book a few years back and yep, I remember it was very slow getting started. But I've heard so many great things about her books. I think I do own this one in hardcover. Thanks for the review and I'd be curious to know if you think her writing has improved with the areas you say were problematic. Also, like you, I've never cared for journalists as amateur sleuths either. Big reason why I've never really enjoyed Liza Marklund but her protagonist usually works with *someone* on the police force. I've rambled on. Sorry. ---Keishon

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    1. Keishon, I do have the 2nd book in the series and I hope to try it sometime in 2015. Based on what little I have read, including interviews with the author, there may be more romantic interactions with sources than I like in the books too. But I think she does a good job depicting LA and Southern California, so want to read more of her work.

      I haven't read the Marklund series yet. But hope to someday.

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  2. Tracy - It does sound like an interesting premise, and I like the fact that it examines an interesting sub-culture. I know what you mean about slow beginnings, though. Sometimes it pays off to keep going; sometimes it doesn't. I'm glad you thought this one was good enough, all told, to see it through.

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    1. An interesting premise and stories based on her own experiences in reporting. I was glad that I persevered.

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  3. I remember reading this book when it first came out, and I also remember thinking that the first half was slow. I look forward to reading your comments on other books in the series.

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    1. Barbara, thanks for stopping by. It may be awhile because the 2nd book, Sugar Skull is set around Day of the Dead, so I would read it around that time. And I like to read in order. Usually.

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  4. Not an author I have heard of previously and TBH not a book that grabs my attention. I have more than enough already. Hope you enjoy book 2 a bit more.

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    1. You are right, Col, not gritty enough for you.

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  5. First books can be hit or miss: sorry this one wasn't your favorite, Tracy. I've heard of the author, but I haven't read any of her books.

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    1. Rebecca, I do find it interesting how some first books are great and the author does not live up to that again, and others go the other direction. And of course some of the level of enjoyment depends on the reader.

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  6. A slow start can be such a pain - hanks TracyK - glad to know it pocks up eventually.

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    1. I do like to be pulled into the plot of a book pretty quickly, Sergio, and I was glad when this picked up. It was worth the effort.

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  7. Tracy, I'm not sure this one's for me although the character of a journalist in the suspense tale sounds interesting. I haven't read a story or novel where the protagonist is a scribe.

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    1. Prashant, I would love to know what others in this field think of her representation of the journalist, although I am sure every newspaper is different, just as every business has its own quirks.

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  8. I like the concept of this very much, it sounds interesting, and with your warning I might be able to cope with the slow start.....

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    1. It is a very good concept, Moira, and definitely worth trying. It is also interesting that many of the characters are very young, and very vulnerable and impressionable.

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  9. I read this book years ago and wasn't sure if I'd read more in the series because it started slow and didn't really pulled me in. But I am interested in seeing what your reaction is to the second book and give the writer another chance.

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    1. Kathy, I hope to find that the second book moves at a faster pace from the beginning, and I think I will find the subject matter interesting.

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