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ISBN 0752866605 / 9780752866604 / 0-7528-6660-5
› Find signed collectible books: 'Sugar Skull'
You can spot Denise Hamilton's journalistic background in the inquisitive, meticulous way she plumbs the economic and ethnic strata of Los Angeles, the setting of her second Eve Diamond mystery, Sugar Skull. As in her previous book, The Jasmine Trade, which dealt with Asian gangsters and undersupervised teens susceptible to criminal influence, Sugar Skull contrasts seemingly disparate, yet intersecting social realms as it illuminates a metropolis in transition.
"All over town, people were dying violently," observes L.A. Times reporter Diamond at this tale's start. In other words, it's a typical weekend in California's largest city, with most of the deceased barely earning a mention in print. But Isabel Chevalier is different. A 15-year-old prep-school student, she's taken to slumming with runaway street kids, so when she disappears suddenly, her worried father seeks Diamond's help. Too late: Isabel is found murdered in an abandoned building. Sniffing a good story, Diamond tracks down the homeless youths who knew Isabel best, including the feral but oddly magnetic Finch "Mad Dog" Marino and an abused girl called Scout, who revs up the reporter's maternal instincts. At the same time, Diamond has another scoop on the hook, involving the suspicious demise of a mayoral candidate's "super-socialite" wife, who--in hypocritical disregard of her hubby's "family values" platform--has been cavorting with another man. Hamilton's smoothly paced yarn sends Eve from a riverside transvestite camp to Latino nightclubs to the hyper-competitive arena of her newsroom, yet leaves her time (and breath) enough to tryst with a somber Hispanic music promoter amid L.A.'s Day of the Dead festivities. Although readers may cringe at this novel's trite portrayals of spin-mad politicians, Diamond's rough-cut charm and perspicacity, plus Hamilton's thoughtful focus on race and homelessness, make Sugar Skull a sweet read. --J. Kingston Pierce [via]