Devil's Garden

Devil's Garden

3.0 13
by Ace Atkins

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"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 - crushing her under his weight - and brings him up on manslaughter charges. William Randolph…  See more details below


"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 - crushing 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. But what really happened? Why do so many people at the party seem to have stories that conflict? Why is the prosecution hiding witnesses? Why are there body parts missing from the autopsied corpse? Why is Hearst so determined to see Fatty Arbuckle convicted?" In desperation, Arbuckle's defense team hires a Pinkerton agent to do an investigation of his own and, they hope, discover the truth. The agent's name is Dashiell Hammett, and he's the book's narrator. What he discovers will change American legal history - and his own life - forever.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.)

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Library Journal

In September 1921, silent film star Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle was tried for the murder of budding actress Virginia Rappe after a wild, boozy bash at a San Francisco hotel. The case was particularly notorious because William Randolph Hearst unleashed the full force of his media empire on it, allegedly tainting evidence and claiming Arbuckle crushed Rappe under his immense weight. A key private investigator for Arbuckle was none other than a young Pinkerton agent named Sam Dashiell Hammett, who turned up much more than a botched police investigation and an unethical autopsy. On the margin of the case was a web of Hollywood intrigue and corruption worthy of its own scandal, fueled by the looming demise of the silent film and Hearst's desire to preserve mistress Marian Davies's acting career. Atkins's (Wicked City) latest noir historical thriller showcases one of the most infamous Hollywood murder trials with a compelling style and a deft blend of fact and fiction. Sure to appeal to Hollywood buffs and mystery readers alike, this is recommended for popular fiction collections.[See Prepub Mystery, LJ12/08.]
—Susan Clifford Braun

Kirkus Reviews
Facing a manslaughter rap, big-time movie star Fatty Arbuckle gets the Pinkerton agent Dashiell Hammett working on his behalf. In September 1921, you can argue endlessly about who's funnier, Chaplin or Arbuckle, whose face shines with ersatz innocence as he takes those earthshaking pratfalls. But there's nothing funny about Arbuckle's private life, which runs to nonstop booze, floozies and wild parties. The saturnalia at the St. Francis Hotel is merely typical until the girl in Suite 1219 turns up dead, causing the San Francisco authorities to pay particular attention. Arrest and indictment follow in short order. According to the prosecution, Virginia Rappe met her untimely end crushed under the importunate bulk of Roscoe Arbuckle. It's an allegation lurid enough to enchant the whole avid world of yellow journalism. Though the evidence against Arbuckle is far from overwhelming, the defense is jumpy. Enter ace Pinkerton operative Sam Hammett, who's not yet calling himself Dashiell. Coughing blood, obviously suffering from TB, he remains every skinny inch a detective's detective, slogging toward some kind of truth through the moral and ethical despond known as the Arbuckle Case. Atkins (Wicked City, 2008, etc.) writes so well that some readers-but not all-will forget to ask if that's enough to validate time spent with irredeemable lowlifes in a modern-day Sodom.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.24(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.24(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Devil's Garden 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
literarymuseVC More than 1 year ago
Silent screen comedy actor Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle is in very big trouble! Rolling in some very big money and throwing wild parties with booze (during Prohibition) and babes, he's caught in a party gone way too wild. An uninvited guest, an actress, Virginia Rappe, shows up drunk, parties very briefly and winds up screaming, writhing and tearing off her clothing in an adjacent hotel room, dying very shortly thereafter despite the efforts of some to revive her. Now Roscoe is on trial for manslaughter and the case at first seems clear-cut but has many problems that seem to indicate more than Fatty's hand is at play in this death. Part of his defense team includes Dashiell ("Sam") Hammett, a gritty Pinkerton detective who's very quick on his feet and mentally astute but who also is suffering from TB he picked up during his WWI Army service. He's also married and about to become a father, a fact not conductive to his poor salary as a detective in the famous Pinkerton Agency. Be that as it may, however, the reader will love how this famous detective is depicted with all his gritty flaws, foibles and charm. Because of who he knows and his ability to work those sources, he discovers innumerable questions about this case that will keep the reader guessing to the very last page. Why is the famous publisher, Randolph Hearst, so interested in this case? What lies in the checkered past about Virginia Rappe that might indicate she was very sick for some time before she arrived at this fatal bash? Why were parts of her body removed during her autopsy and by whom? Why are so many witnesses being paid to perjure themselves with an expected and scripted testimony? And why is Sam Hammett removed from the case just when he is solidly sure he's on to some facts that would definitely clear Roscoe? The pace is slow and easy in part, rapid and dangerously thrilling in others as Ace Atkins presents the details about this infamous case in 1920's San Francisco and Los Angeles, California. He is faithful in describing the famed detective, Sam or Dashiell Hammett's actions and thinking, not your usual TV crime drama style but presented in a jazzy, gangster-style mode reminiscent of the way things really were in crime scenes and the acting world of that er a. Readers will come to appreciate the ambience of these cities in their plushest and seediest sites and people. Ace Atkins has done a splendid job and offers the reader a fascinating look into a bygone era of fame and fortune that could be destroyed in the wink of an eye, in a time when criminal investigations were not always on the side of fairness and justice. Very nicely done for sure! Reviewed by Viviane Crystal on March 25, 2009
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TWTaz More than 1 year ago
I'd actually rate this 3-1/2 stars, but they don't give you that option. This is the first book I've ready by Ace Atkins, and I really enjoyed Devil's Garden. Knowing nothing about Fatty Arbuckle or this scandal, I found it a very interesting story (even a fictional version). The author's style of writing really made me visualize the time period and cast of characters, and the story moved along quickly. I did find the ending a bit of a let down. Not sure what I was expecting, but it did feel a little anticlimactic to me. However, overall, I liked the book a lot and will definitely read more by this author.
JNJN More than 1 year ago
I am intrigued by what sounds like a very good book, but I thought this was a review spot for readers to contribute and the one review above is clearly written by a professional or someone promoting and summarizing this book. I don't get it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The story of Fatty Arbuckle's fall from being one of the most adored celebrities of his time to being hated and unemployable is something that has always fascinated me. The trouble is, there are a lot of holes in the tale that have never been filled in. I guess it's also true that Dashiell Hammett was involved as a detective on the case. Ace Atkins does a masterful job of fleshing out the plot and bringing to life the real people involved. It's a fictionalized account, which means you have to expect a bit of speculation about what happened thrown in with the facts. All in all, it's more satisfying than the usual sketchy, cartoonish representation of Roscoe Arbuckle. If you are interested at all in this period of Hollywood's history, I highly recommend Devil's Garden.