If Devil's Garden were a cocktail, you’d need a shot of detective noir and a shot of true crime. Shake and serve cool.
Ace Atkins’ newest story involves the legacy of Fatty Arbuckle. Who is Fatty Arbuckle and what is his legacy? Well, the less you know about this footnote in our country’s pop culture history, the better.
Fatty Arbuckle was a huge (literally and figuratively) film star during prohibition. One night in San Francisco, Fatty and his entourage throw a big, drunken party in a hotel. Days later, one of the female guests dies, and Fatty is charged with her murder.
The slanted media helps to create a frenzy of rumors and accusations that would cause a present-day producer at Access Hollywood to go into cardiac arrest. The story makes the other trial of the century seem like an episode of Judge Judy.
The tale is fascinating because it serves as a precursor to our country’s guilty pleasure of seeing famous people fall. Devil's Garden also features two other historical figures: William Randolph Hearst and Dashiell Hammett, the detective on the case who goes on to write classics like The Maltese Falcon.
Fans of Ace Atkins know the author’s talents for basing his detective novels on real-life events, but the historical significance of Devil's Garden may also be its one flaw. Readers already familiar with the outcome of Fatty Arbuckle’s trial may find the book disappointing, as most of the supporting characters are a little two-dimensional and largely forgettable.
Like I said, the less you know about Fatty Arbuckle, the better.