Evil in All Its Disguises by Hilary Davidson is the third Lily Moore mystery and is set in Acapulco (available March 5, 2013).
Lily Moore has just arrived at the Hotel Cerón in Acapulco on a press junket when one of her fellow journalists, Skye McDermott approaches her, wanting to talk. She’s traveled with Skye before and has always enjoyed her company, but Skye is obviously distraught and needs someone to confide in. After a conversation that confuses, more than enlightens Lily about Skye’s situation, Skye leaves the table to take a phone call, and never returns. Lily is puzzled, especially since Skye not only mentioned Lily’s ex-boyfriend, Martin Sklar, but she also left behind her bag containing her passport. Skye is nowhere to be found and Lily is at a loss. It also seems that the hotel manager, who is connected to Martin, and the person in charge of the press junket aren’t interested in finding Skye at all. Soon, she begins to notice some odd things about the Hotel Cerón, beginning with her own room.
The bedroom wasn’t as aggressively colorful as the living room, but it did boast a bedspread that was the same shade of red as a chili pepper. Lying against a pillow was a white envelope with Miss Lily Moore written in calligraphic style on the front. As I reached for it, a champagne cork popped, making my head turn, and I noticed a framed photograph on the wall. It was a portrait of Ava Gardner. I stopped suddenly and stared, disconcerted. The other art I’d seen in the suite were bright paintings of Mexican landscapes; this black and white shot seemed very much out of place. I stared around the room, realizing that there was a shot of Ava with Frank Sinatra, and another that was a publicity still of Ava wearing a leopard-print bathing suit and posing on a leopard-skin rug. The presence of the shots didn’t feel accidental; it was hard to imagine that they weren’t deliberate choices made by someone who knew of my admiration for Ava Gardner.
There are other little details about the hotel that remind her of a bygone era, but with plenty of cracks showing through. After all, Acapulco was the destination of choice for the stars of Old Hollywood, especially in the 1950s, and although that Acapulco is long gone, some of the romantic optimism remains, even amid the recent cartel violence and crime. Yet, Lily can’t shake the impression that the hotel is hiding something sinister.
Sheltered in a grove of trees, I stared at the façade of the Hotel Cerón. The sky had turned several shades darker, and instead of sunlight warming the structure’s stark edges and angles, the gray veil of menacing weather made it more grim. It looked as if the life had been sucked out of the place and all that remained was a neat stack of hollow bones. It didn’t help that there wasn’t a soul moving around the hotel.
Upon continuing her tour of the hotel’s grounds, she encounters a series of bungalows that seem half finished and give off a distinctive “ghost town” impression.
The hotel’s windows were like a hundred black eyes on me; once my back was to them, I was filled with the heavy, unshakable sense of being watched. Stop being ridiculous, I told myself, looking around again. There’s no one there.
The pathway on the other side of the hotel was a short one, but it changed styles in the middle, so that the Cerón’s slippery stones were replaced by wide flagstones that made it easier to move forward. The path opened suddenly to a small clearing that was filled with the skeletal remains of three dozen small bungalows. No, not remains, I realized, taking in the scene; there were construction supplies and equipment littering the ground. The bungalows were still in the process of being built.
As Lily explores the bungalows, she soon finds herself confronted by a man holding a gun.
I was about to look into the next one when a hand grabbed my shoulder and pulled me back, off-balance. Turning my head, I saw a man who was about my height. His pie-round face and sparse scraps of beard made him look like a kid starting high school. But he was holding a gun and pointing it at my chest, and once I noticed this, his age didn’t matter.
Once she explains that she’s a guest at the hotel, the gunman—who seems to already know this—follows her back to the entrance. She can understand security over the construction site, but this confrontation only adds to her increasing uneasiness. The claustrophobic feeling of the hotel, coupled with the fact that Lily hasn’t really felt that well since she arrived, create the perfect atmosphere of paranoia. It doesn’t help that the behavior of some of her companions is strange, and at times, downright suspicious.
The feeling of tension gradually increases as Lily tries to get to the bottom of things and the build-up of suspense reminded me very much of some of Alfred Hitchcock’s work such as Dial M For Murder and even Rear Window. The author’s expert application of subtle menace creates a delicious, and at times disconcerting, palette for mystery. Add to that a capable, yet still vulnerable, heroine to root for in Lily Moore, and you’ve got a novel you can sink your teeth into with considerable relish. The devil is in the details in Evil In All Its Disguises, and I should probably warn you, losing sleep in order to finish this one is almost a certainty.
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