Book Review: Sugar Skull

By Denise Hamilton; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman

Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond is sitting at the Metro desk working on a weekend crime round-up when an agitated man charges up.

Introducing himself as Vincent Chevalier, a sound engineer who worked on several famous albums, he announces that his daughter Isabel, 15, has been missing since yesterday and the police aren’t helping him find her.

He tells Eve that his daughter is a student at a prep school and has been taking food, clothes and blankets to runaways squatting in abandoned buildings. Vincent clearly loves his daughter, although Eve thinks he is naïve about his daughter’s activities.

Thinking there may be a story here, she agrees to accompany him to the squat Isabel has been visiting. They find Isabel — dead. Eve wants to know why.

She turns to the newspaper’s photo library and finds a photo of Isabel with Paolo Dellaviglia Langdon, son of super-socialite hostess Venus Dellaviglia Langdon and mayoral candidate Carter Langdon III.

Eve gatecrashes a campaign event at the Langdon’s Los Feliz home in search of Paolo. He tells Eve that Isabel was young, needy and had a serious crush on a “skanky boyfriend” at the squat.

The next morning, Eve is woken up by a call from the Metro desk informer that Venus Dellaviglia has been found dead in the swimming pool at her home. Was it suicide? Or murder? Are the deaths of Isabel and Venus coincidence – or linked? Does Paolo know more than he’s telling?

This is an intriguing book with its descriptions of familiar L.A. neighborhoods; the social, ethnic, racial and economic divides in the cultural landscape; and the Chandleresque juxtaposition of money, power and death.

SUGAR SKULL is part of series featuring Eve Diamond. The other books in the series include THE JASMINE TRADE (2002), LAST LULLABY (2005), SAVAGE GARDEN (2005), as well as several stand-alone novels. Each book in the Eve Diamond series focuses on a trend such as Asian “parachute kids” living alone in L.A; the waves of Russian immigration; and the gentrification of East L.A.

Like her heroine Eve Diamond, Denise Hamilton is a former Los Angeles Times reporter. She has also edited anthologies of noir and speculative fiction.

Jeannette Hartman is the creator and chief book reviewer at and

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