Diana Poole was the last of the starlets. A vibrant blonde with a quick wit and sharp intelligence, she was on her way to the top when Colin Hudson changed her mind about being famous. He was the finest screenwriter in Hollywood, and loved her well enough that she lost the acting bug forever. When he dies, he leaves Diana lonely, broke, and verging on middle age - a combination that’s difficult anywhere, but toxic in Hollywood.
One afternoon while standing outside her newly renovated Malibu house, Diana Poole sees a woman across the highway waving at her, but Diana doesn't recognize her. Still waving, the woman walks into the oncoming cars and is killed instantly. Why would anyone do such a thing? The next night, still horrified by the accident, Diana is held at gunpoint by a man demanding the dead woman's scorpion. What kind of scorpion? A live one? A brooch? A pendant? Diana searches the accident scene and finds a diamond-encrusted object in the shape of a scorpion.
Running out of money, Diana Poole is forced to go back to the only work she knows: acting. Her much-loved husband and movie-star mother have died, and now Diana is over thirty-five. In Hollywood that means she might as well be dead. Still, a few key people remember her talent, and she lands a role in a new movie. But an actress should never get her hopes up, especially when she discovers the female lead’s murdered body.
As elegant, enigmatic private eye Claire Conrad and her very independent assistant Maggie Hill prepare to fly to L.A., a young woman appears at their hotel bearing an unusual message: a legendary fashion model who died recently did not commit suicide. When the messenger is stabbed to death, Claire and Maggie decide to stay in New York to further investigate her claim.
Maggie Hill’s life has become temporary. Her marriage was temporary, her jobs are temporary, and if work doesn’t pick up, her time in California might be temporary, too. Her latest employer is Ellis Kenilworth, an aging coin expert with a first-rate collection and a tenth-rate family. One morning, he has Maggie type up a codicil to his will, changing the document so that his million-dollar rare-coin collection goes not to his kin, but to a woman named Claire Conrad. By the end of the day, the codicil has vanished, and Kenilworth has killed himself with a shotgun.