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The Last Embrace Paperback – July 1, 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1St Edition edition (July 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743296737
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743296731
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,109,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lily Kessler, a former OSS officer, fearlessly treads Hollywood's meanest streets in search of her late fiancé's actress sister, Kitty Hayden, who's gone missing while seeking juicy parts and wealthy lovers, in this evocative stand-alone set in 1949 from Hamilton (Prisoner of Memory and four other Eve Diamond thrillers). Soon after moving into Kitty's grungy boarding house, Lily learns Kitty's been murdered, like the famous Black Dahlia not long before, and she puts all her skills—intuition, deduction, inference and logic—into unraveling the crime. Gang wars, police corruption, shady reporters and a passionate new love interest, Det. Stephen Pico, can't stop Lily. Despite some papier-mâché minor characters and some celluloid motivations, this torrid, down-and-dirty exposé of the postwar entertainment industry includes enough special effects to make all that glitter look—temporarily—like 24-carat gold. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

It’s 1949, and Lily Kessler, former OSS spy, is home from Europe and visiting her hometown of Los Angeles to look for the sister of her late fiancé, an aspiring actress who has disappeared. Lily finds the missing Kitty quickly enough, but she is in the morgue, the first victim of a Black Dahlia–like serial killer who seems to be preying on the residents of a Hollywood boardinghouse for actresses. Lilly takes Kitty’s room in the house, starts investigating, and quickly becomes a target. Hamilton, author of the contemporary Eve Diamond series, capably mixes and matches here, combining a staple of women’s melodrama (career girls in a boardinghouse—see Haines’ Winter of Her Discontent)—with an edgy evocation of postwar, hard-boiled L.A., á la James Ellroy. It’s an unlikely combination of sweet and savory, but Hamilton makes it work with a engaging heroine and a cast of quirky supporting characters who seem to have walked off the set of Sunset Boulevard. The details click into place smoothly, the struggling actresses hit their marks, and even the obligatory romance avoids the smarm factor. Ellroy meets women’s fiction? Why not? --Bill Ott

Customer Reviews

She expands the action in her story to include outlying cities like South Pasadena and even Duarte.
Marcus A. Lewis
And most frustratingly once we reach the unmasking of the real killers and the mystery's solution, it has little to do with most of the story we've just read.
S. Hammel
Perhaps Hamilton has a sequel in mind, but for all liky's strengths as a character, I wonder if she could carry another book.
Brian J. Oneill

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By S. Hammel on November 30, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reviews of this novel suggested a Los Angeles noir novel with echoes of Raymond Chandler. But I found it frustrating and disappointing on multiple levels.

Hamilton writes skillful prose and creates an interesting story, but far from the tough-guy language of Chandler and traditional noir there is a girlish quality that runs through the voice of this story. Her heroine is a former OSS WW II spy, which is a promising idea. But rather than convincingly using skills she acquired as a spy, she barrels around like an amateur sleuth putting herself into danger time and again, showing little judgment.

As the story moves along coincidences pile up upon one another, characters cross paths too conveniently and as we get toward the later portion of the novel, clues and leads that were readily discoverable much earlier in the story conveniently emerge when it suits the narratives purposes. Hamilton tale becomes increasingly convoluted, so that she ends up stumbling over herself explaining things away. Soon it becomes clear that much of the action of the novel was simply a series of convoluted red herrings that simply pad the story's length. And most frustratingly once we reach the unmasking of the real killers and the mystery's solution, it has little to do with most of the story we've just read. Aside from being somewhat out of left field...it feels minor and disappointing.

Hamilton also disregards the construction of most noir detective fiction...and most mysteries by intercutting the point-of-view amongst several major characters and even veers off to include moments with minor characters. This also is a frustrating direction for a mystery. In for instance Micheal Connelly's Bosch novels, we remain in Bosch's perspective, discovering clues and leads as he does.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Marcus A. Lewis VINE VOICE on August 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
"The Last Embrace" takes place primarily in Los Angeles, but Denise Hamilton is obviously aware of those far-flung residential areas that were also in existence in 1949. She expands the action in her story to include outlying cities like South Pasadena and even Duarte. Having grown up in Los Angeles and later the San Gabriel Valley myself, I found it gratifying that the author gave the suburbs an opportunity to impact her story's plot.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brian J. Oneill on April 29, 2009
Format: Paperback
I'd never heard of Denise Hamilton before reading 'Last Embrace'. The setting, and the 'noir' aspects of the story, convinced me to try it.
I found it was an above-average read, one I could put down, but eventually finished.
Lily made an interesting, if not completely fascinating, protagonist, but the story was somewhat uneven, with many lightweight, stereotypical,interchangeable, and unmemorable supporting characters.
I have to give Hamilton credit for her most of research into postwar Southern California, especially for finding a way to include movie-star cameos without making them seem forced. I found that her digressions into Ray Harryhausen and the special effects wizardry took me out of the story, and read a bit too much like the reference material Hamilton must have consulted along the way. It wasn't that it was dull to read, it just seemed more biographical rather than expository fictional writing, sounding a bit out of place in the context of the story.(A bit like if a comic-book artist had appeared in the story, and suddenly we got a three-page digression on how Superman was created).
Hamilton tried hard to make Lily a strong lead character, adequately addressing her concerns about her future life and place in postwar society and for the most part, she succeeded. However, I would have liked to see Hamilton give Lily some of that 'noir swagger' the author discussed in her afterword. There were moments when Lily seemed a bit too passive, though she at least took control of the action eventually.
The real problem was that the story had too thin a plot to support so many characters, and as a result, some of the loose ends were tied up less neatly than others. Perhaps Hamilton has a sequel in mind, but for all liky's strengths as a character, I wonder if she could carry another book.
All in all, it was a nice try, but not quite 'gritty' or 'heavy' enough to rank as modern classic 'detective noir' fiction.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Lesa Holstine on July 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
Denise Hamilton takes the reader back to Los Angeles, in the heyday of Hollywood, for two violent weeks in 1949 in her first standalone, The Last Embrace. The reader sees the city, and its dangers, through the fresh eyes of Lily Kessler. Her impressions bring the story to life.

Lily was a stenographer and spy for the OSS in Europe. Following the war, she found herself without a job, as so many women were as the men returned. She lost her fiancé, her job, and doesn't have a home. When she visits the woman who would have been her mother-in-law, Mrs. Croggan asks her to go to LA to look for her daughter, a starlet who took the name of Kitty Hayden, and disappeared. But, almost as soon as Lily arrives in town, and goes to the boardinghouse where Kitty lives, the young woman's body is found by the Hollywood sign. Lily feels she owes it to her fiancé's memory to find out what happened. And, once she meets the two detectives in charge of the case, she's even more determined to investigate. Lily doesn't trust the cops to find the truth. She'll keep probing, and upsetting people, until she upsets a few too many people. Two more bodies are found, as Lily continues to push herself deeper and deeper into a dark world.

Los Angeles in 1949 wasn't all glamour. The girls staying in the boardinghouse were wannabe actresses with stars in their eyes. They saw Frank Sinatra singing, fancy restaurants, movies and glamour. But, Lily saw a city of crooked cops on the take where rival gangsters were at war, a world where the movie studios paid off the cops, the newspapers, and abortion doctors. She encountered a city where men could be hounded to their deaths by cops and media, where cover-ups were likely.
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More About the Author

Denise Hamilton writes crime novels and is editor of Los Angeles Noir, an anthology of new writing that spent two months on bestseller lists, won the Edgar Award for "Best Short Story" and the Southern California Independent Booksellers' award for "Best Mystery of the Year."

Denise also edited Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics, with stories by Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Walter Mosley, James Ellroy, Chester Himes, Ross Macdonald, Margaret Millar and others.

Denise's new novel, Damage Control, will be published by Scribner on September 6, 2011 and has already received raves from Kirkus (In a novel that marries celebrity culture, surf noir and the bonds of friendship, Hamilton is at the top of her game) and James Ellroy (A superb psychological thriller). She has five books in the Eve Diamond series and her standalone book "The Last Embrace," set in 1949 Hollywood, was compared to Raymond Chandler.

Denise's books have been shortlisted for the Edgar, Macavity, Anthony and Willa Cather awards. Her debut "The Jasmine Trade" was a finalist for the prestigious Creasey Dagger Award given by the UK Crime Writers Assn. Hamilton's books have been BookSense 76 picks, USA Today Summer Picks and "Best Books of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Toronto Globe & Mail.

Prior to writing novels, Hamilton was a Los Angeles Times staff writer. Her award-winning stories have also appeared in Wired, Cosmopolitan, Der Spiegel and New Times. She covered the collapse of Communism and was a Fulbright Scholar in Yugoslavia during the Bosnian War. Hamilton lives in the Los Angeles suburbs with her husband and two boys.

She also writes a perfume column for the Los Angeles Times

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