Monday, September 5, 2011

The Scents of Memory

Damage Control by Denise Hamilton.*
(Release date September 6, 2011.)

A review by Marlyn Beebe.

Maggie Silver's profession is damage control. She gets paid to clean up, or hide messes made by famous people. When we meet Maggie she's on her way to the home of an actor who has been accused of sexual assault by his children's nanny. Maggie's job is to spin the incident to make the nanny seem dishonest and mercenary in order to take the appearance of transgression away from the actor.

Before she has a chance to do much, however, her manager calls to tell her they have an even more important client back at the office. When she gets there, she's surprised to see someone she once knew very well: the father of her high school best friend, now a respected Senator.

When Maggie realizes what she is expected to do, she briefly considers resigning, but she knows she can't. She has a mortgage to pay and a cancer-survivor mother to support, and so she must recall of the unpleasantness that ended her friendship with Anabelle Paxton.

It takes some time before Maggie allows herself (and the reader) into the place where those memories are hidden. The gradual revelation of those memories begins with smells: sand and salt water, barbecue-flavored potato chips, patchouli. It's already been made clear that the olfactory sense is very significant to Maggie. In the first chapter of the book Maggie describes dabbing her wrists with perfume just before meeting a client:

...clean, crisp notes of citrus, bergamot and verbena. Nothing cloying or clobbering...Just a subtle scent amulet to infuse me with secret grace and power.

Ms. Hamilton skilfully describes Maggie's reactions to sights, sounds, and smells to increase the already strong empathy the reader has with her through the first-person point of view. We become so attuned to Maggie's senses and emotions that we can almost feel the heat of the sun on her arms, the dizziness caused by watching a record spinning on a turntable.

This is one of those books that (as I probably say too often) you will want to read slowly and savor, yet at the same time rush through to learn what happens. And what happens does not disappoint, save to signal the end of our time with Maggie.

Denise Hamilton writes the nationally best-selling Eve Diamond crime novels featuring a reporter who solves murders in contemporary multicultural Los Angeles. Hamilton is also an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Wired, Cosmopolitan, Der Spiegel and New Times. She writes a monthly perfume column for the Los Angeles Times called Uncommon Scents.

*FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me an e-galley of the book for review purposes.


  1. Terrific review. I relate to the character's heightened sense of smell, but I wonder how well I would relate to her occupation. Still, I sympathize with a character who feels trapped in a job due to financial and health-related burdens. The author's credentials look stellar as well.

  2. Another new author for me to look for thanks to your review! This really does sound like something I would enjoy reading.

  3. Hmmm. Interesting premise and plot line! And a unique-sounding protagonist... Thanks for sharing, Marlyn!

  4. I love the idea of using such a timely topic and combining it with something unusual. It's a unique approach. Also sounds like there's plenty of conflict for the character--something that always lends itself to being a good page turner. Thanks for the review, Marlyn.


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