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The Last Embrace Paperback – July 1, 2008

3.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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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
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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: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #333,127 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Velten on June 5, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The Last Embrace started out with a great idea; a former file clerk/OSS spy trying to adjust to post-war life in the US after a number of years in Europe working undercover as a spy. This sounded like a variation on the hard-boiled detective, jaded with seeing the seamy side of life. Unfortunately, this character only lasted for the first few chapters. As the book went on, the spy started acting more like a file clerk; bungling her way through unraveling the mystery of the missing actress, unable to maintain her cover, and allowing herself to be isolated with potential suspects. Seems like she would have had a very short career as a spy.

The suspects were the usual stereotypes; the sinister landlady, the mob boss, the crooked cop and even the thwarted suitor. In the end the killer turned out to be a wild card with a very shaky motive.

This would have been better written in the first person as in many of the other noir fiction books and as the author's Eve Diamond mysteries are written. This book, while interesting, reads like an early attempt at novel writing pulled out of the bottom desk drawer at a publisher's urging. I gave it 3 stars because she did manage to evoke 1940's LA in the telling of an interesting but flawed story. The female spy in the post-war era would still make a great book, just not this one.
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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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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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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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