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The Latest: Brit goes 'Digging'; 'Dead' lacks life

January 23, 2014
  • "Digging Too Deep," a Trosca Trevant mystery by Jill Amadio.
"Digging Too Deep," a Trosca Trevant mystery… (Daily Pilot )

Digging Too Deep

Jill Amadio

Mainly Murder Press; 207 pages

Jill Amadio's "Digging Too Deep" is the sort of book that will have you casting the movie version in your head as you read.

Put the right director at the helm and these characters could net multiple Oscar nominations — John Malkovich, maybe, as the sinister music professor suspected of murder, or George Clooney as the avuncular Secret Service veteran with a yen for poetry. The English gossip columnist who arrives in America intent on solving a crime? Emma Thompson, of course.

Its title notwithstanding, Amadio's novel doesn't dig very deep psychologically — most of the time, it's as light as one of the teacakes its heroine would ingest back home — but it works on the level of a tongue-in-cheek summer thriller, where we relax and follow the clues while aware that, however brutal, it's all in good fun. Well, I played the board game "Clue" as a child, and that's about solving a bloody murder as well. Gallows humor gets us through so much of life.

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The protagonist of "Digging Too Deep," in fact, has that detached mind-set herself. At the beginning, Tosca Trevant, who writes for a London tabloid, has been shooed away to America after uncovering a scandal at Buckingham Palace, and she arrives in Newport Beach with an assignment to gossip about America.

She hopes, though, to cut her teeth as a crime reporter and return to the tabloid with a promotion, and when she discovers what appears to be human fingers sticking out of a rock in her neighbor's garden, she declares herself on the case.

The garden belongs to Haiden Whittaker, who, in this partly true depiction of Newport, teaches at UC Irvine (other aspects of the setting are fictionalized; most of the action takes place on Isabel Island, clearly a stand-in for Balboa Island, and there's mention of the Barracuda Bay Club). A local police officer passes on the mysterious rock to his former Secret Service agent father, and before long, a shady coin dealer, an ill-fated ferry worker and others — living and deceased — have entered the fray.

"Digging Too Deep" comes billed as "A Tosca Trevant Mystery," and the main character is both an asset and a hindrance. Amadio cleverly portrays Tosca not as a crusading detective but as an opportunist who views the case in terms of personal gain, and the novel might have been sharper if it had delved into the ego-driven world of the tabloids.

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