In 1935, the bloodied, beaten body of Thelma ("Hot Toddy") Todd, one of Tinsel-town's top comediennes, was found in a carbon-monoxide-filled convertible in Pacific Palisades. Legal authorities ruled the death a suicide. In this gritty tale, Edmonds (Talkin' Tough, Let the Good Times Roll--not reviewed) pins the killing squarely on crime-boss Lucky Luciano. Todd learned early on to use her considerable sexual charm (she was, Edmonds tells us, "without doubt the most beautiful girl in Hollywood") to propel her into the limelight, first as Miss Massachusetts 1925, then as a smashingly successful starlet, appearing in Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, and several other Hollywood classics. Edmonds places much of the thrust for Todd's meteoric rise on her aggressive, thoroughly unpleasant mother; from Todd's father, a corrupt politician, she developed an equally harmful "uncontrollable compulsion" toward gangsters. Unfortunately for Todd, as her Hollywood star ascended, so did that of Lucky Luciano; in time the two met (through Todd's husband, a Mafia hanger-on who liked to beat his wife) and became "sexually intimate." Always one to return a favor, Luciano responded to Todd's companionship by turning her into a junkie. The ending was sordid and quck: Thelma learned too much about Luciano, resisted his demands that a cafe she owned be turned into a gambling operation, and was snuffed out. Edmonds tends towards melodrama (Thelma's mother "slowly strangled the life out of her daughter"; Luciano "had neither heart nor soul") but, soap-opera riffs aside, she ably intertwines three separate histories (Todd's, Hollywood's, the Mob's), in the process unearthing the worms that festered beneath the klieg lights.