This book is the second in a series featuring a Detective Inspector in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Layla Remington. In her introductory outing, Layla investigated the massacre of a colony of movie apes that were living in retirement in a sanctuary in the hills behind Malibu Beach.
A violent earthquake off Malibu throws up a buried steel drum in which is found the body of a young movie star, Tarin Mistry, who had abruptly disappeared at the peak of her career ten years before. It would normally be Layla’s case, but she is shouldered aside jurisdictionally by two publicity-hungry L. A. Police Department detectives known derisively as Rack and Ruin. Despite her experience and training as a professional police officer, Layla yields to a rather vague desire to avenge Tarin’s awful death and sets out to conduct an investigation of her own.
While Layla begins compiling a list of teenage starlets who have mysteriously dropped out of sight after enjoying brief success, a politically powerful producer appears who first threatens her and then tries to co-opt her. An interesting aspect of is that the girls, who went missing, were reading a popular book at the time. Someone decided to make is real and part of his or her world. A parallel story to this, we follow the adventures of a young girl, Dixie, who is attempting to find her birth parents. Her adoptive father, it turns out, was once linked to the producer via an old jail mate, and surprise, surprise, they are all still in contact.
The trouble with the whole tale is that there is very little character development or even much deductive crime solving, it just recounts a series of events.
An excerpt from the book:
Her mother suggested that God must have meant for the girl’s body to be found. It had been extremely well hidden, concealed in an eighty-five-gallon steel drum, the barrel sealed shut, weighted with a concrete slab and buried on a remote hillside in Malibu, California.
“Our darling would have been there until Christ summoned her on the Final Day,” said Cathy Gunion, a woman of such severe evangelical beliefs that her daughter had fled the family home to escape.
For a long time, the barrel remained safe and secure in its subterranean home. The area was locked in a terrible drought, and even in normal times was celebrated for its relative lack of rain. Water, the enemy of all those at rest beneath the ground, never penetrated the four-foot-deep retreat.
The naked victim was drugged and unconscious when she was placed in the barrel. A terrible question naturally occurs. Did she wake? We can only imagine the horror if she did. Better to believe that the airless confines of the steel drum produced a gentle, sleepy asphyxiation.
Days, then weeks, passed. Spinal and brain fluid leaked from the dead girl’s orifices. She bloated, the bloat collapsed, the body began the long process of dry decay, more familiarly known as mummification. Months, then years. At some point her fingernails detached from her hands, to drop off and land soundlessly in the soft muck at the bottom of the barrel.
Only the girl’s hair survived unchanged, feathery, white-blond, her most distinctive feature while she was alive. Human hair is nearly indestructible. Fire will do it, of course, but most acids won’t, nor will immersion in water or exposure to ultraviolet rays. The simple march of time seems to have no effect. In the waste pools of Auschwitz there is still hair from Holocaust victims, intact seven decades after the fact.
Unstirred by the ocean breezes up top, the limp hair of the victim in the barrel remained, like a marker or a calling card.
Or a prayer.
I was me. I was here. Remember me.
Five years, two months, sixteen days. The prayer changed, became distilled, refining itself to its essence.
What could accomplish that hopeless task? How would it possibly happen? Who might turn up such an unsavory, unseen prize?
A contractor at work on a foundation for a million-dollar Malibu mansion? A crew of laborers digging a trench for a gas main? Some mad treasure hunter?
None of the above. Whether a divinity was responsible, as the born-again mother claimed, or perhaps some darker force, it would not be human agency that evicted “our darling” from her makeshift crypt.
I was me. I was here. Remember me.