Trashed
By Alison Gaylin
(NAL/Obsidian, $22)

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Readers who appreciate literary fiction quite likely spend little, if any, time with supermarket tabloids that purvey salacious gossip about celebrities. Therefore, a novel grounded in the world of the tabloids might seem unattractive, given that there's a huge selection of other worthy books from which to choose. But mystery novelist Alison Gaylin has managed to craft a real gem set in the realm of Hollywood tabloid reporters and editors. Trashed is a major departure from Gaylin's previous novels, which take place in New York and have a preschool teacher as the protagonist. Moving her fiction world to Los Angeles and using an ethically challenged journalist as her main character must have seemed risky to Gaylin.

She needn't have worried. Simone Glass, a 26-year-old graduate of the prestigious Columbia University journalism school, decides to seek employment on the West Coast to get out from under the large shadow of her older sister, a famous cable-television anchor. Landing a job at an obscure but respected newspaper in Los Angeles, Glass learns upon her arrival that the paper has just gone out of business. Desperate for other employment, she accepts a reporting job at the Asteroid, a sensationalistic publication fighting against the cutthroat competition for market share.

Reporting techniques include going through the trash of celebrities and working undercover, serving hors d'oeuvres for a caterer, among other disguises. Glass is shocked and uncomfortable but needs the job, so she compromises her principles. Her journalism talent, however, allows her to think beyond the sleaze and leads her to hypothesize that a string of Hollywood murders considered suicides by the police are the handiwork of a serial killer. The plot is compelling and believable; I did not guess the identity of the killer until Gaylin revealed the name. The writing is excellent, surpassing in quality most of the big-selling mystery authors' works I have read. If Gaylin writes another novel, I will try it without hesitation - no matter what the setting. - Steve Weinberg