Quick Review: LOST HILLS by Lee Goldberg (Thomas & Mercer)

GoldbergL-ER1-LostHillsIntroducing Eve Ronin, unwitting celebrity LA Sheriff’s homicide detective…

A video of Deputy Eve Ronin’s off-duty arrest of an abusive movie star goes viral, turning her into a popular hero at a time when the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is plagued by scandal. The sheriff, desperate for more positive press, makes Eve the youngest female homicide detective in the department’s history.

Now Eve, with a lot to learn and resented by her colleagues, has to justify her new badge. Her chance comes when she and her burned-out, soon-to-retire partner are called to the blood-splattered home of a missing single mother and her two kids. The horrific carnage screams multiple murder — but there are no corpses.

Eve has to rely on her instincts and tenacity to find the bodies and capture the vicious killer, all while battling her own insecurities and mounting pressure from the media, her bosses, and the bereaved family. It’s a deadly ordeal that will either prove her skills… or totally destroy her.

The start of a new crime series set in Malibu and Los Angeles, Lost Hills is a quickly-paced crime thriller. It introduces us to Eve Ronin, a newly-minted homicide detective in the Los Angeles County Sherrif’s Department. Early in her tenure, she’s thrown into a grisly murder investigation. This is a good introduction to the character(s), and an enjoyable, fast-paced crime/mystery novel.

The novel doesn’t waste any time getting going. We quickly meet the main characters, and also get a quick one-two punch of murders to underpin the story. Goldberg does a very good job of not bogging us down with exposition, and allows the action and characters’ dialogue to fill in blanks and necessary context.

I enjoyed the banter between Eve and her older partner, Duncan. Their rapport is well written, with Eve’s earnest newbie attitude only mildly clashing with Duncan’s soon-to-be-retired cynicism and more-relaxed approach to law enforcement. He’s a good companion for Eve, and provides her with plenty of hard-learned lessons about being a detective in Malibu. Meanwhile, Eve’s quick rise to the rank of homicide detective frustrates the other detectives — who give her a pretty hard time, especially after she’s put in charge of the investigation. At the same time, her incredible focus and dedication neuters any of their attempts to belittle her status (she simply works harder than they do, ultimately breaking the case).

The novel nicely ties the story into the culture and history of the area, be it Malibu or Los Angeles proper. For example, as a minor celebrity, Eve is often given pointers by her superiors and her mother on how best to present herself to the news media, despite our heroine’s resistance to and dismissive attitude towards them.

“You aren’t hearing me. If you look tired and haggard tomorrow, after you’ve already caught the killer, the press is going to wonder why you are working so Goddamn hard. They will think our case is weak. But if you look bright, refreshed, and relaxed the next time they see you, that projects confidence, and that’s what they will feel about the case, too.” Lansing tipped his head to the press outside, many of them still on camera, using the station as a backdrop for their reporting on the story.

“The press isn’t following me around all the time.”

“Today everybody has a camera. You, of all people, should know that. Perception is reality, so it’s up to us to create the perception,” Lansing said.

Eve’s relationship with her mother is established in this novel, too: still struggling to become a star after decades of living on the edges of Hollywood, she tries to manage Eve’s celebrity, believing that her daughter wants the same as her mother (and seemingly everyone else in Los Angeles). At one point, Jen even analyses Eve’s “creative choices”, as if being a cop is just a persona she’s affecting for the cameras, or going method:

“I’m impressed,” Jen said. “You pretend that you aren’t playing to an audience but you are. Now I get it. You’ve chosen to dress the way you do, and to ignore your hair and makeup, because you’re creating a distinct character.”

“I’m not creating anything. It’s who I am, Mom.”

“You mean you’re consistently staying in character. Very sharp. I’m not sure I agree with your creative choices, but I admire what you’re doing. You’re more like me than you think.”

In addition to dealing with a tense work environment, the detectives of the LASD must conduct their business in the midst of ongoing environmental dangers — specifically, the fires that rage through the region every year. (They become a considerable obstacle later in the novel.)

It’s becoming rather difficult for me to review any crime/thriller novel set in and around Los Angeles without comparing it to Michael Connelly’s work. I know this isn’t strictly fair, as each series should be taken on its own, and it’s clear from the get-go that Lost Hills is a different kind of crime novel: it’s much quicker-paced, for example, and doesn’t delve as much into the procedural side of the genre. Some elements of the story jump forward quite quickly, and Eve makes some leaps of deduction that came across as a little too easy, but the author makes it work. (At one point in Lost Hills, Eve listens to a Bosch audiobook when stuck in LA traffic, which I thought was a nice touch.) After finishing the novel, I couldn’t help but wish Lost Hills was at least a bit more substantial.

Lost Hills is a pretty enjoyable, quick, contemporary crime read.

*

Lee Goldberg’s Lost Hills is out now, published by Thomas & Mercer in North America and in the UK. The next novel in the series — Bone Canyon — is expected to publish in January 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter
Review copy received from distributor

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