rhhAlong the ever-changing border of gentrifying Los Angeles, a seventeen-year-old girl is found hanged at a construction site. Homicide detective Elouise Lou Norton’s new partner Colin Taggert, fresh from the 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 thirty years ago. As Lou investigates the death of Monique Darson, she uncovers undeniable links between the two cases. 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?

Finding myself esconsed in the lonely space between finishing the DVD of the late, lamented and quite brilliant LA cop show Southland, and awaiting the next Connelly/Wambaugh etc for my Los Angeles fix, I espied this- a new police thriller set in Los Angeles. Result, I thought, and, in a nifty change of reading for me, the main character is a female police officer, the feisty, but ‘still waters running deep’ kind of gal, Homicide Detective Elouise ‘Lou’ Norton. With the dual temptations of the location, and the promise of a notable debut, I dove straight in…

In a refreshing change of style for the well-trodden path of Los Angeles based crime, the main character Detective Elouise Norton has grown up on the wrong side of the tracks in Los Angeles, clawing her way out of the social depravity of the projects, and fuelled by the mysterious disappearance of her sister, some years previously, to become a police officer, and work her way up through the ranks to become an intuitive and focused homicide detective. With the discovery of a murdered young girl on a construction site, Norton quickly focuses on the involvement with the victim of a certain Napoleon Crase, and his dual implication with the unsolved disappearance of Norton’s own sister, Tori, during her childhood. So the central thrust of the plot is whether Crase as guilty as he appears, or does Norton simply want some closure on her own sadness, and sense of unfinished business? To be honest, the plot with its slightly clunky central premise, and connection between the detective’s past and present investigations, was satisfying enough, and there was a good build-up of tension, despite the relatively slow opening. The investigations were engaging enough, with a particularly creepy criminal perpetrator at their centre, and there was plenty of scope for Hall to vividly bring to life the surrounding environs of Los Angeles, and gives us a real insight into the city. However, of far more interest to me, was Hall’s adept characterisation and the wonderful interplay and development of Norton’s character in the realms her personal and professional life, and this was the real strength of the book.

With Norton’s untrustworthy husband, away at a conference, and cheating like a demon on her, Hall strikes a nice balance between the different personas of her central protagonist. As her personal life unravels, and the emotional weight of the familial loss of her sister, impacts so greatly on her investigation, her focus and efficiency as a police detective provides a good counterpoint to the stresses of her life away from the job. Throughout the book, Norton remains a point of interest for the reader, and the ups and downs of the investigation gives ample opportunity for us as readers to really get beneath her skin, and make us entirely comfortable with this engaging character. As some light relief to the sadness she imbues through her experiences in the book, there is time for some delightful banter with her recently assigned new partner, Colin Taggert, from the less demanding police department of Colorado Springs. With this relationship, Hall is given the freedom to poke gentle fun at this relatively unworldly wise detective, now in the alien environment of one of the most dangerous cities in the US, as Norton seeks to shape him into a decent partner. The back and forth repartee between them, compounded by the endearing idiocy of Taggert, is a joy, fuelled by equal amounts of growing affection underscored by frustration- a partnership that bodes well for potential further books in the series.

So very pleased to report that, all in all, Land of Shadows was a more than competent debut which provided enough interest in this first book for me to return for more. Looking forward to the next one. A good read, and would definitely recommend.

Rachel was born in Los Angeles, California fifteen days after Paul McCartney announced the split of the Beatles. As a child, she kept a pen in her hand, writing everywhere in notebooks, on loose-leaf paper, in her big brothers prep-school yearbook and on the back of church bulletins. But never on walls, buildings or freeway overpasses. That is graffiti. For four years, she lived in the forest at UC Santa Cruz. There, she received a degree in English and American Literature, and helped to charter the Pi Upsilon Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Incorporated. She lives with her husband and daughter in L.A. Website: www.rachelhowzell.com Follow on Twitter @RachelHowzell

(I bought this copy of Land of Shadows)

 

 

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