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Devil's Garden [Kindle Edition]

Ace Atkins
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

San Francisco, September 1921: Silent-screen comedy star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle is throwing a wild party in his suite at the St. Francis Hotel-girls, jazz, bootleg hooch...and a dead actress named Virginia Rappe.

The D.A. says it was Arbuckle who killed her- crushed her under his weight-and brings him up on manslaughter charges. William Randolph Hearst's newspapers stir up the public and demand a guilty verdict.

In desperation, Arbuckle's defense team hires an operative from the famed Pinkerton detective agency to investigate and, they hope, discover the truth. The agent's name is Dashiell Hammett... and what he discovers will change American legal history-and his own life- forever

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Exclusive: Megan Abbott Reviews Devil's Garden

Megan Abbott is the Edgar®-winning author of the crime novels Queenpin, The Song is You and Die a Little. Her new novel, Bury Me Deep, which is loosely based on the Winnie Ruth Judd "Trunk Murderess" scandal of the 1930s, comes out in July 2009. She lives in Queens, New York.

One might call it bold or even arrogant. An author takes on not only one of the most storied scandals of the 20th century as his subject of his new novel but, at the same time, deploys one of America's most celebrated writers as one of its central characters. That is precisely what Ace Atkins does in his new novel, Devil's Garden, a giddy, swaggering take on the Fatty Arbuckle trial, with a young detective named Dashiell Hammett navigating the scandal’s heady convolutions. But you need only get through the dreamy, haunted prologue—based on Hammett's famous account of being offered money to murder a union leader—to realize that Atkins’s choices are not driven by arrogance at all. Devil's Garden is an act of love.

From frothy show girls to sly-eyed grifters, from machinating hangers-on to Arbuckle himself, so shocked by the speed and cruelty of his descent he can barely lift his head up—all of Atkins' characters are treated with wit, understanding and, frequently, clear-eyed affection. While we see repeated glimmers of the Hammett to come, Atkins never lets the story, or the prose, slip into hardboiled kitsch or winking parody. Nor does he let any reverence cloud his vision. Many of characters that populate Devil's Garden feel like they could emerge, gin-clouded and blood-simple, in Hammett's Red Harvest or The Glass Key, but we can see why: they are so clearly the figures that inspired him. While it tips its hat to Hammett’s world, Devil's Garden caroms along with a style and velocity all its own.

A marvelous extension of Atkins' fascination (White Shadow, Wicked City) with the cunning and often cruel ways that hustlers high and low, board room and back alley, manipulate power, Devil's Garden revels in contradictions—it is both sprawling and intimate, rollicking and poignant. The novel begins on Labor Day weekend, 1921, when beloved screen comic Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle threw a wild party in a suite at San Francisco’s St. Francis Hotel. One of his guests, a young woman named Virginia Rappe, fell ill and died shortly after from peritonitis brought on by a ruptured bladder. As the story took on momentum and news headlines screamed, Arbuckle himself faced criminal indictment. Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst reputedly boasted that the scandal sold more papers than the sinking of the Lusitania.

The fact that pre-Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett was one of the Pinkerton detectives assigned to the Arbuckle case is pure literary gold and Atkins’s mines it with great care. His Hammett feels real, a raw-boned young man with a sharp eye and a writer’s gimlet eye and beating heart. He is our trusty guide through a seamy tour through the worlds of yellow journalism, backroom politics and the merry band of hucksters, thieves and B girls who circle around Arbuckle’s downfall, picking pockets along the way. As big as the scandal grows, and as larger-than-life as Atkins’s characters (William Randolph Heart, Marion Davies, Arbuckle himself) are, they never feel anything less than human, petty, troubled, heartbroken, real. It’s quite an achievement.

Late in the novel, Atkins gives us a scene of Arbuckle and his wife, actress Minta Durfee, at the piano playing old songs from their journeymen showbiz days, singing as loud as they can until the windows of their soon-to-be-lost mansion shake. It’s the kind of moment that lingers. You have the feeling, as you do so often when you’re reading Devil’s Garden, of watching some shuddery lost Jazz-Age film. It's as glittery and jubilant as New Year's Eve noisemaker one minute, but the next, one of those haunting silent-movie faces loom out at us, telling us their whole, sad stories with just a twitch of the mouth, a flicker in the eye.

(Photo © Joshua Gaylord)

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The 1921 rape/manslaughter trial of silent film star Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle provides the gritty backdrop for Atkins's outstanding crime novel, in which Dashiell Hammett, then a Pinkerton operative living in San Francisco, plays a significant role. A wild party Arbuckle throws at San Francisco's posh St. Francis Hotel results in tragedy after an actress, Virginia Rappe, is mysteriously injured and later dies. As the author explains in a behind the story introduction, the future creator of Sam Spade was actually assigned to help the defense on the Arbuckle case. With enviable ease, Atkins (Wicked City) brings to life Hammett, Arbuckle, William Randolph Hearst and other real figures of the period. Those familiar with the historical case will be impressed by how well the book meshes fact and fiction. Genre fans who enjoy the grim realism of James Ellroy's post-WWII Los Angeles will find a lot to like in Atkins's Prohibition-era San Francisco. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • File Size: 640 KB
  • Print Length: 380 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0399155368
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (April 2, 2009)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001TLZE7S
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,421 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary, historical detective fiction April 6, 2009
Dashiell Hammett investigating the first-ever celebrity murder trial on the foggy streets of San Francisco, a silent-film star hounded in the newspapers by William Randolph Hearst himself -- Ace Atkins knows how to make historical fiction out of a hard-boiled detective story.
Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was roaring through the '20s with plenty of showgirls and hooch when he pajama-partied a little too much and a starlet got dead. At the time, Hammett was a Pinkerton operative hired to find witnesses whom prosecutors were hiding. Hearst, of course, deployed his yellow-journalism reporters to crucify the "portly beast" Arbuckle. (Chris Farley wanted to play Fatty in a movie, and it would have been a match, because Arbuckle was a self-loathing porker with a gift for making people laugh and no desire ever to grow up.)
Ace Atkins -- yeah, that's really his name -- writes cinematically: Short scenes with clever "buttons" alternate with long swaths of snappy dialogue. One flimflam man, for example, describes another as "a phony bird. That's halfway between crazy and a con man, and that's the middle of the road, brother."
Hammett -- he was "Sam" then, back before his Dashiell days -- tails tricksters and crooks into ornate hotel lobbies and up San Francisco's hills, wheezing with the effort and pausing to spit blood into his handkerchief. While some good-hearted folks appear -- Sam's first wife, one of the Pinkertons, a snitch named Pete the Fink -- the speakeasies and courtrooms of The City are filled by people with their hands out, thumbing their noses at what passes for an upright legal system.
Atkins works too hard at blackening Hearst's character in the epilogue, but Devil's Garden still rises far beyond pulp fiction to a much higher level.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars terrific silent movie era noir April 11, 2009
In 1921, following a wild party at a San Francisco hotel, silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle is arrested for the alleged murder of actress Virginia Rappe. The evidence is circumstantial at best, but William Randolph Hearst using his colossal newspaper kingdom assaults the actor accusing him of suffocating the poor starlet with his humongous weight.

Pinkerton private investigator Sam Dashiell Hammett investigates the case for the defense. He finds at best a sloppy official inquiry by SFPD and an even more questionable autopsy; as if everyone feared the wrath of Hearst. Rightfully so, as the newspaper mogul keeps up the tirade until Arbuckle is condemned in public and his comedic movie career buried under innuendos and disinformation. Hammett finds all sorts of Hollywood scandals, but none as perverse as Hearst's unethical efforts that the sleuth believes is to save the movie career of his mistress Marian Davies at the expense of Arbuckle.

Ace Atkins' third historical mystery (see WHITE SHADOW and WICKED CITY) is a terrific silent movie era noir focusing on the notorious Arbuckle murder case. The story line is fast-paced, filled with action, loaded with real persona, and captures the era especially how influential the newspapers (specifically Hearst) as well as anyone since Citizen Caine.

Harriet Klausner
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just doesn't get any better than this! May 26, 2009
With the publication of WHITE SHADOW and WICKED CITY, the novels published just prior to DEVIL'S GARDEN, Ace Atkins entered into the big leagues of great, memorable fiction. Now with the publication of DEVIL'S GARDEN, Ace proves that he deserves a permanent slot on every major best seller list (New York Times, USA Today, etc.) and that people who enjoy a great read should stand up and take notice. Ace has a wonderful flair for taking unique historical events, researching them impeccably and then turning them into "movies for the mind". I've been a fan of Ace for a long time and have read all of his books. And DEVIL'S GARDEN is Ace's best book yet. This is an author who deserves to be sharing the spotlight with everyone from Grisham to Parker to Patterson to any other of today's biggest names in fiction. If you haven't read Ace Atkins, then you are truly missing out. And if you miss reading DEVIL'S GARDEN, well, you might just not be a serious reader. Do yourself a favor: if you only buy one novel to read this Spring, make it DEVIL'S GARDEN.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Ace Atkins went from being a good writer to an amazing one seemingly overnight. The transformation occurred with WHITE SHADOW, a fictionalized account of an unsolved murder that took place in Tampa, Florida, in the 1950s. His next novel, WICKED CITY, about a corrupt town in Alabama, was every bit as good as its predecessor. But his latest work blows both of them, and just about everything else, out of the water.

DEVIL'S GARDEN begins on a fateful Labor Day weekend in 1921 when silent film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle came to San Francisco for a holiday of drunkenness and debauchery. Within 72 hours a woman would be found critically injured in his suite of rooms at the St. Francis Hotel; upon her death a short while later, Arbuckle would be charged with manslaughter. Students of the silent film era are familiar with the incident and how it played out; those who are not probably would not care. So Atkins is faced with a double dilemma: How do you make interesting a story whose ending is already writ in history, and how do you attract a reading audience from those whose interests may lie elsewhere?

The solution --- one that Atkins accomplishes with amazing, almost magical ability --- is to paint each character with a vividness that causes them to stay in the mind's eye long after they have passed off the page, all the while sprinkling them through a narrative that flows unhurriedly even as the next sentence, paragraph, page and chapter demand to be read immediately. Atkins performs this Herculean task quite handily, even as he recreates the San Francisco of the 1920s with such vividness that it seems to take over the real world of the here and now if and when one stops reading.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Dash and Ace together in truth and fiction
This is a tough one. I liked the book because the old Hollywood story was interesting. Although the names have changed, I'm sure there are still actors, directors, producers and... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Fast and as described
Published 6 months ago by Nanci T. Kerr
4.0 out of 5 stars the perils of Pauline revisited
Well written but staggers from one adventure to another without end. An editor with a pair of scissors would be appreciated.
Published 8 months ago by unhappy
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh!
I love Ace Atkin, and have enjoyed his standalone novels as well as his Quinn Colson series. I am even reading Robert B. Read more
Published 8 months ago by KarynsPlanit
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping
This book captures the era of bootlegging and crime during San Francisco during the 1920's. It was hard for me to put the novel down for it was a page turner from the very... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Kristin Conley
Ace Atkins proves once again why he is one of the best at historic fiction. DEVIL'S GARDEN is a tremendously well done novel based on the 1920's arrest and trials of Roscoe Fatty... Read more
Published 22 months ago by James L. Woolridge
4.0 out of 5 stars "A Good Egg"
Ace Adkins, that is, who crafts an intriguing true crime novel chronicling the 1921 trial of silent film funnyman Roscoe "Fattie" Arbuckle, accused of killing actress Virginia... Read more
Published on August 30, 2012 by Gary Griffiths
5.0 out of 5 stars Devil's Garden, My Eden
After having read, The Ranger by Ace Atkins, and knowing that Atkins was to be the heir apparent to Robert B. Read more
Published on August 21, 2011 by JEFFREY MCGRAW
5.0 out of 5 stars A marvelous feel for the time, early 1920s and the place, San...
Fatty Arbunkle was a silent movie comic at the top of the box office when he was accused of murdering a young starlet in a drunken debauch. Read more
Published on December 30, 2010 by Indian Prairie Public Library
3.0 out of 5 stars Watered down James Ellroy
"Devil's Garden" has so much potential yet it is fatally flawed. The potential was that the author was working with a true crime in a great setting (San Francisco of the 1920's)... Read more
Published on September 9, 2010 by Justin M. James
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More About the Author

Ace Atkins is the New York Times Bestselling author of seventeen novels, including the forthcoming The Redeemers and Robert B. Parker's Kickback, both out from G.P. Putnam's Sons in 2015.

One of the best crime writers working today, Ace has been nominated for every major award in crime fiction, including the Edgar twice for novels about former U.S. Army Ranger Quinn Colson. A former newspaper reporter and SEC football player, Ace also writes essays and investigative pieces for several national magazines including Outside and Garden & Gun.

He lives in Oxford, Mississippi with his family, where he's friend to many dogs and several bartenders.

Find out more about Ace and his novels on his official website:, on Facebook Ace Atkins, and on Twitter @aceatkins.

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