Sugar Skull

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by Denise Hamilton

Reporter Eve Diamond is sitting at the Metro desk working her way through a weekend crime round-up for the Los Angeles Times when an upset man comes charging up. He demands help finding his 15-year-old daughter Isabel, who has been missing since yesterday.

Introducing himself as Vincent Chevalier, a sound engineer who worked on a number of famous albums, he claims the police are ignoring the situation. A prep school student, Isabel has been hanging out with an edgy crowd of runaways squatting in abandoned buildings.  She brings them food and warm clothes, her father says.
Eve is touched by Chevalier’s naivete and love for his daughter so she agrees to accompany him to the squat that Isabel has been visiting. There they find Isabel — dead.
Eve decides to pursue a story about the relationships between savvy, worldly street kids and wealthy middle class teens looking for excitement. She discovers a photo in the newspaper’s library of Isabel interacting with Paolo Dellaviglia Langdon, son of the super-socialite hostess Venus Dellaviglia Langdon and mayoral candidate Carter Langdon III.
Slipping into a campaign event at the Langdons’ Los Feliz home, Eve seeks out Paolo, who describes Isabel as young, needy and totally smitten by her “skanky boyfriend” of the squat.
The following morning, Eve is awakened by a call from the Metro desk informing her that Venus Dellaviglia has been found dead in a swimming pool on the Langdon estate.
The intersection of the deaths of Venus and Isabel sends Eve in pursuit of why these two women died and whether the deaths were related. Did the divine Ms Dellaviglia-Langdon commit suicide — or was she murdered? What more about Isabel does Paolo know that he’s not saying?
This is a delicious book in so many ways — the descriptions of familiar neighborhoods in Los Angeles; the social, ethnic and racial divides in the cultural landscape; and the Chandleresque melding of money, power and death.
Every book in the Eve Diamond series takes on a trend (Asian “parachute kids” living alone in L.A; the waves of Russian immigration; and the gentrification of East L.A., among others) and explores its impact on individual characters and on the broader L.A. community.

These novels vividly evoke the L.A. scene without dipping into cliches or cartoons.  The mysteries are fresh and unpredictable.

The Author: Denise Hamilton

Hamilton was a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times before becoming a novelist. She spent six months in the former Yugoslavia on a Fulbright Fellowship and traveled in Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, reporting on political, cultural and economic trends.

In an interview by Daniel Olivas for The Elegant Variation, Hamilton called Los Angeles “The Ultimate Femme Fatale, beckoning and promising riches and glory and love, but now the suckers come from Yerevan and San Salvador as well as Sioux City and Tulsa.”

She is the editor of the anthologies Los Angeles Noir and Los Angeles Noir 2: the Classics. The first volume features 17 stories set in different Los Angeles neighborhoods by authors Michael Connelly, Janet Fitch, Patt Morrison, Hector Tobar and others.  The second reprints stories written in the 1930s into the 1990s by authors Ryamond Chandler, James Ellroy, Ross Macdonald and his wife Margaret Millar, Walter Mosely, and noir pulp quieen Leigh Brackett.

She also wrote Uncommon Scents, a monthly perfume column for the Los Angeles Times.

Eve Diamond series

These mysteries feature Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond:

  • The Jasmine Trade (2001). The death of Marina Lu just months before her wedding introduces reporter Eve Diamond to the world of “parachute kids,” rich Asian teens who live alone in California while their parents run businesses in Hong Kong.
  • Last Lullaby (2004).As Eve shadows U.S. Customs Supervisor William Maxwell for a story, she becomes a witness to a shooting that kills three passengers on a flight from Beijing via Seoul that Maxwell has been investigating. One of the dead was a woman from first class who got off the flight with a toddler. The man booked on the flight as her husband is missing, and the toddler is abandoned. As officials try to learn more about the toddler, less and less makes sense.
  • Savage Garden (2005). What Eve hoped would be a romantic date a the theater with her new love, Silvio Aguilar, turn into a night of uncomfortable revelations. The star of the show, Catarina Velosi, fails to appear and Eve discovers that she and Silvio share a complicated past. The involvement of gang-banger-turned-playwright Alfonso Reventon, a long-time friend of Silvio’s, may be far less straightforward than he appears.
  • Prisoner of Memory (2006). While investigating the sighting of a mountain lion in L.A.’s Griffith Park, Eve comes across the body of a teenage boy, who has been shot to death execution style. The son of a Russian emigre scientist, the boy was an excellent student with no gang ties. Eve, herself the child of Russian immigrants freels a strong connection to the boy’s father, even as she senses he’s not telling all he knows. Eve’s efforts to find out who killed the boy take her deep into Cold War agendas and the Russian Mafia.




  • The Last Embrace (2008). An atmospheric novel set in post-war Los Angeles, this book features Lily Kessler, a former OSS spy, who is asked by her late fiance’s mother to track down his sister Kitty, an actress who has disappeared from her Hollywood boarding house. When Kitty’s body is found in a ravine below the Hollywood sign and the local police seem unwilling to put some energy into finding her killer, Lily takes on the task herself. Based partially on fact, this book takes readers on a dark, seedy tour of Los Angeles noir.
  • Damage Control (2011). Struggling to climb the ladder of a high-powered Southern California PR firm, Maggie Silver gets a plum of a client when she’s asked to do damage control for Sen. Henry Paxton, whose young, female aide has been found murdered. But the assignment unlocks elements of Maggie’s past that she has tried to forget. Paxton is the father of her best friend from high school, Anabelle. But Maggie has had no contact with Anabelle since a tragedy that neither of them have been able to forget.




  • Los Angeles Noir short story anthology
  • Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics


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