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

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.

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.

Instead, it aims most of its humor at Tosca's fish-out-of-water status in America. She fusses over tea and her umbrella and constantly points out this or that thing that the British do differently, and this kind of material feels obvious the first time and more forced as the book goes on.

If "Digging" turns out not to be the last Trevant mystery, then I hope she'll have acclimated to Newport in time for the second book. After all, there's plenty of excitement here beyond culture clash.

My proposal: In the next installment, Tosca finds herself competing for a crime story with the police reporter at the Daily Pilot. And yes, Amadio can use the real name.

—Michael Miller

*

In the Dead of Night

Ceasefire

Self-released EP, six tracks

Band and musicians have a certain something that defines them. People know Bob Dylan for his stream-of-consciousness lyrics and nasal voice, the Beatles for their catchy Mersey beat and Van Halen for its ear-splitting guitar solos.

The Fountain Valley alternative rock band Ceasefire, however, doesn't seem to have that unique identity just yet. Its self-released EP "In the Dead of Night" is six tracks of the band sounding like various other bands and their musical trademarks.

The opening "I Want to Know" has the makings of a great song. There is, however, one aspect that bugs me, and that's the loud synthesizer during the chorus. It reminds me of something the Killers would do, but Ceasefire just took it too far.

I'm all for the sound of synths in songs. I love the song "Roundabout," by Yes, and that has a lot of keyboard in it. Maybe it's Ceasefire's decision to go with a high-pitched tone that seems to drown out the rest of the instruments that has me so annoyed.

I found the keyboards on the track "In the Dead of Night" and most of the other songs on the EP just right, so I know this band is capable of easing up on the synthesizer.

"In the Dead of Night" is a single that is currently getting some radio time on KROQ. It's reminiscent of some of Muse's electric dance music-inspired songs, which could be a good or bad thing depending on the listener. I, for one, am not a huge fan of "drops," the point at which a song pauses and plays with a more emphasized tone. I liked this track up to that point, and then it lost me.

The last song, "We're Not Breaking," is an interesting love ballad about being with someone through thick and thin. But again, Ceasefire makes questionable use of synthesizers or music samples. The song is beautifully crafted, with the guitars playing softly in the background and the singer's voice as the centerpiece of the track. But during the chorus there's an odd, electronic sound suggestive of a robotic chirping bird.

The best track on the EP is "Wake Up," which should have been Ceasefire's first single off this album. The vocals are just right, there's a subtle and catchy guitar solo toward the end of the song, and the drums make you want to dance. Everything falls right into place with this song, and I can't understand how other tracks on the EP could be a bit off.

Sometimes it takes an album or two for a band or musician to find that intangible component that will define the music. Queens of the Stone Age started to make it big with their second album, "Rated R," and broke into the mainstream with the next LP, "Songs for the Deaf."

But Ceasefire's album is an EP, after all, and the band could change its sound by the time it releases its first full-length album. And I hope it does make some changes.

—Anthony Clark Carpio