Mulholland Drive. It was an intersection that generated lots of confusion, and not only because of the nearly identical street names. It was also the intersection of two cities, three neighborhoods, two law enforcement jurisdictions, and on this hot, smoggy Thursday afternoon in December, life and death.
So begins Lee Goldberg's new series—a story of a young, talented, fallible, inexperienced woman detective in the LA County Sheriff's Department. Eve Ronin is in this position thanks to being in the wrong place at the right time, and getting herself plastered all over social media just when the Department needed any good publicity it could get. Capitalizing on this, the Sheriff puts her in the high-profile Robbery-Homicide Division where she faces a lot of sexist backlash—and some that's not sexist, but based on the way she got the job and how unprepared she is for it. Still, Eve knows a good opportunity when she gets it and is determined to rise to the occasion, as hard as it will be.
That's the novel (and probably the series) in a nutshell—everything else is just window dressing. But man, I tell you, it's great window dressing.
First off, you've got this case. A single mother of two (no longer romantically involved with the man she's living with, but unable to move out), her kids and their dog are missing. What's present in their home is a lot of blood. I mean a lot. Enough that there's little hope that any of them are still alive, but Eve can't rule out the possibility. So she really has two investigations to get into—the multiple murder case, and a missing persons case. Given the grizzly nature of the crime scene, there's a lot of public attention on this case, and a lot of pressure on the rookie detective. That there is enough for most novels, but we get more.
What I loved about this book (and, from what I hear in interviews, the series to come), is how it displays that everyone in the L.A.-area is in or adjacent to the entertainment industry. Eve's mother and the probable victim are chasing stardom, the likely victim's ex-boyfriend works on a film crew (as does his alibi). There are detectives shopping script ideas around, and clearly will jump on new "material." You'd think that with the sheer number of police procedurals/PI novels set in LA that this would be well-trodden territory, but it really isn't. How is that possible? I'm so glad that Goldberg committed to this idea.
At the end of the court was a poorly maintained, unfenced ranch home with two cars in the driveway— an old Ford Taurus with oxidized paint and a Nissan Sentra. A woman in her early thirties paced anxiously in front of the house.
“She’s keyed up,” Duncan said as Eve pulled up to the driveway. “You better talk to her, woman- to- woman.”
“Good idea, because you know we don’t even have to speak to each other,” Eve said, putting the car into park. “Our uteruses can communicate telepathically.”
“I think the correct term is ‘uteri.’”
But what makes this (and any series) work are the characters. Eve is a great character, while her mom was off chasing stardom (and primarily finding work as an extra), she did the heavy lifting when it came to raising her younger siblings. Now she's taken that sense of responsibility to her career and those she comes into contact with.
Eve's mom is still in pursuit of the Hollywood dream, if not for her (though that'd be her preference), than for Eve. When Eve shows up on TV being cornered by a reporter, Jen is more focused on how Eve looks than the case in question. When she does think about the case, it's in relation to how Eve can turn it into a movie deal. I cracked up at Eve's first conversation with her (and enjoyed the rest), but can easily see where she could be overused on the long-term, and she could easily turn into a one-note joke. I know Goldberg can do something interesting with her if he wants to, I just hope he does.
Meanwhile, Eve's younger sister, Lisa is a delight. She's a nurse as well as Eve's main source of emotional support (and ice cream). The cynic in me thinks she might as well be named Nurse Bechdel Test. But let's ignore him—she's a great character for Eve to bounce off of—a sounding board for the emotional beats and struggles that Eve endures thanks to her promotion and career—as well as something that humanizes Eve. She's not just a cop, she's a sister with strong maternal instincts/reflexes, who needs someone to take care of her occasionally. I thoroughly enjoyed their interaction and the way they fed off each other, and her continuing presence in the series bodes well for it (and, yeah, probably makes sure these books pass that particular test).
Then there are Eve's colleagues (who get more real estate in the book than her family does, but I'm going to cover briefly here because I'm rambling). I'll start with her partner, Duncan—a jaded veteran detective nearing retirement. That gives him a certain detachment from Eve's catapulting into Homicide, as long as her presence doesn't interfere with his exit, what does he care. In the meantime, he'll pass on some wisdom and cynicism. I loved his character and really hope that retirement stays away for a while.
Almost every other detective (both in the Sheriff's department and the LAPD) doesn't share his detachment, and will not actively try to derail Eve, but will be skeptical and antagonistic to her. The nicest thing anyone will say about her is that she's starved for attention and fame. The Sheriff on the other hand, will exploit Eve whenever he can (he needs her to be a star to deflect attention away from serious problems in the department). It's hard to tell if he has any real confidence in her, or if it's all opportunistic. I'm not sure it matters much.
I would've liked a little more depth to this story, but just a tad. Any more and it would've slowed down the fast, driving pace and tension—which wouldn't have been worth the trade-off. I'd also have liked to gone a bit more in-depth here myself, but if I do, I'd probably not get this posted for two more months, so we'll call this good.
I haven't read every novel Goldberg has written, but I have read 26 of them (so far), so I feel like I have a pretty decent idea of what kind of writer he is. There is something distinctly Goldberg-esque about Lost Hills and Eve. At the same time, there's a freshness and verve to them that is new—it felt like Goldberg has stretched himself to try something in these pages and it worked—a reward for both author and readers. Eve Ronin is a fantastic character that I hope to spend many years reading and exploring the world of. You should, too.