Written by Rachel Howzell Hall — Land of Shadows is the first in a new series featuring LAPD homicide detective Elouise Norton. She is married to a computer game programmer, Greg, whose work takes him out of the country a lot, giving him the opportunity to have affairs. Elouise has already forgiven him once and is worried the signs are there – like not answering his phone, and inexplicably sending flowers and gifts as if he’s feeling guilty about something – but she doesn’t know what to do about it.
At work, Norton has a new partner. Colin Taggert is a rookie detective with a privileged southern upbringing and a cocksure attitude that makes it hard for him to take orders from a black woman. Norton’s past is very different. She grew up in a part of the city called the Jungle and did well to escape it. Her sister Tori was not so lucky. She disappeared after being caught shoplifting by a man called Napoleon Crase. He’s gone on to achieve local notoriety as a successful real estate developer with an eye for young women who may not always be consenting. Norton’s decision to join the police was influenced by the need to solve her sister’s case, and she’s convinced Crase was behind the disappearance.
When young black girl Monique Dawson is found hanged in at a construction site – the next Crase development – Taggert is inclined to write it off as suicide. Norton, however, with her cop smarts and suspicion of Crase treats it as a potential murder. This is quickly confirmed at autopsy. It turns out Monique Dawson was leading a double life and the detectives will have to rule out lots of suspects. These include Crase, a sanctimonious boyfriend who wanted to control her life, a notorious gangbanger whom she secretly dated, her sister’s rich older lover, and a young basketball player who thinks he’s above the law. The hazy streets of LA get a lot hotter for Elouise Norton as the killer begins eliminating witnesses, and her own marriage starts falling apart.
Hall has written a first class police procedural which has the potential to shoot up the bestseller lists. Casual readers of crime will be pulled in by her deceptively simple writing, a storytelling compass that always points her in the right direction, and a heroine with across-the-board appeal. Crime fiction lovers can enjoy an above average American procedural with perhaps the most compelling LA cop since Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. The author also takes the time to examine how the past affects the present, family secrets and race. Particularly interesting to me was the exploration of guilt felt by the black middle class after moving away from the ghetto.
Land of Shadows is a multi-faceted story which is pleasure to read. It’s the start of what promises to be – if there is any justice on these mean streets – a hit series.
Land of Shadows goes on sale 23 May.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars