All signs point to hardboiled. Start with the classic pulp cover—black sheers and slit skirt, leather and velvet. Then note the author, Cheryl Crane: The daughter of much-married movie legend Lana Turner, Crane made tabloid headlines herself in 1958, at age 14, for stabbing her mother's gangster lover to death. The title echoes The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain's steamy melodrama whose film version earned Turner the best reviews of her career. And a blurb by L.A. Confidential's James Ellroy doesn't hurt either
But noir this is not. In her bright and breezy fiction debut (she already has two nonfiction memoirs under her belt), Crane paints her home turf with more glitter than grit. Even as she winks at the excesses of Tinsel Town's past and present, Crane's affection and compassion for its denizens—hungry for fame, money, sex, love or all of the above—shines through. She has wisely chosen Nikki Harper, a local realtor (like Crane), as the down-to-earth amateur PI. Nikki turns from high-end condo listings to low-rent crime investigating when her best friend and agency partner, Jessica Martin, discovers Rex March, a has-been '70s sitcom star, dead in her bed wearing nothing but gold lamé bikini briefs. The double indignity: Rex had supposedly already entered Syndication Heaven, killed in a plane crash six months ago.
Nikki, offspring of '50s silver screen icon Victoria Bordeaux, seems more than a little embarrassed by her megawatt pedigree but is more than willing to flash The Smile (learned at her mother's knee) or some hand-me-down Lakers tickets to get the information she needs to clear her friend. Though Nikki herself prefers a vintage sweater dress and flats to Badgley Mischka and spike-heeled Jimmy Choos, readers also get an insider's guide to Tinsel Town's current fashions and hot spots without alienating those who haven't taken their own stroll along Rodeo Drive or Melrose Avenue. Yet the fun really begins when La Bordeaux takes on a major role, highlighting her and Nikki's enmeshed but endearing diva-and-daughter act. Though herself Turner's only child, Crane has given Nikki at least one half-sibling (from Victoria's nine marriages) who is both poignant and hilarious, and hints of other family skeletons that are sure to be rattled in future entries in this series.
In Crane's critical but not cynical view, everyone in Hollywood is a character in his or her own movie and anyone is capable of murder. So, grab a bucket of popcorn or a box of Junior Mints and enjoy!