Review - LAND OF SHADOWS, Rachel Howzell Hall
Having been a bit of a fan of one of her earlier books - NO ONE KNOWS YOU'RE HERE - the chance to read LAND OF SHADOWS was gratefully accepted (courtesy of NetGalley). Set in Los Angeles, with another strong, flawed, believable and extremely likeable central female protagonist this writer has a fabulous way of making that world come alive. There's a strong sense of place, particularly in this book, set as it is in that sort of fringe world between deprived communities and incoming gentrification, stalled because of economic downturn and malaise. Add to that a couple of very different central protagonists - Lou Norton from the neighbourhood, a woman from a difficult childhood, strong, flawed, resilient in many ways and vulnerable and self-destructive in others. The incoming cop - her new country boy partner - a bit of a fish out of water in the inner-city, somebody who has much to prove and not a lot of ideas on how to go about that.
Given she's the central character in this book, Norton holds up her end of the bargain very well. After her sister goes missing when they are children, she's spent her life and her career looking closely at the man she suspects was behind that disappearance. The fact that his name appears again in this latest murder gives her much to be wary of. Obsession can make a poor investigative tool and she's aware of that, whilst also utterly committed to finding what happened to her sister as well as this latest victim. She's also dealing with a serially unfaithful husband, and the implications that he has for her "happy ever after plans" once she finds out what did happen all those years ago.
She's a bundle of contradictions needless to say. Strong in the job, determined and quite forceful, she's a good mentor for the new cop on the block, albeit prickly and inclined towards sarcasm. Yet her home life, as luxurious and physically comfortable as it is, is a car crash. The fact that she stays anywhere near her husband might be a difficult dilemma for some readers to process.
Within the personal, and the interactions between the two central characters, there's a reasonable, slowish and very procedural investigation. The identification of the victim, the following up of her movements, the way her family operates, the connections between her family members, the past, the present, suspects, places and events all build a picture that eventually develops into a solution. Sure, some of these connections are predictable, and the creepy criminal voice lurking around the edges is a device that's been done to death, but much of that is carried by the strength of the characters and the by-play between Norton and Taggert and, in particular, her personal situation. There's some gentle poking of fun at all levels throughout this book. Norton doesn't take herself too seriously which really helps with some of the emotional turmoil, and the country boy daftness of Taggert never steps over the line into caricature.
Contradictions, inconsistencies and the personal and professional are part of what Hall explores with great precision in this novel. There's much in all of these characters that is required to add up to the whole. Part of what makes Norton a great cop is her compassion, her ability to see the grey, and her understanding that sometimes things aren't straightforward. Part of what makes these two characters feel like that should have a long, and very fruitful fictional life is the strengths, weaknesses and reality of both of them.
Along the ever changing border of gentrifying Los Angeles, seventeen year old Monique Darson is found dead at a condominium construction site, hanging in the closet of an unfinished unit. Homicide detective Elouise “Lou” Norton’s new partner, Colin Taggert, fresh from comparatively bucolic Colorado Springs police department, assumes it’s a teenage suicide. Lou isn’t buying the easy explanation.
For one thing, the condo site is owned by Napoleon Crase, a self made millionaire. . .and the man who may have murdered Lou's missing sister, Tori, thirty years ago. As Lou investigates the death of Monique Darson, she uncovers undeniable links between the two cases. But her department is skeptical.
Lou is convinced that when she solves Monique’s case she will finally bring her lost sister home. But as she gets closer to the truth, she also gets closer to a violent killer. After all this time, can he be brought to justice. . .before Lou becomes his next victim?