Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Review of Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall (2014, Titan Books)

The body of a 17 year old black girl is found in an under-construction development. Homicide detective Elouise Norton and her new partner are assigned to the case. For Lou there are strong echoes with the disappearance on her sister, Tori, thirty years previously; not least the age and race of the victim and that the development is owned by Napoleon Crase, who owned the stored Tori was last seen hanging around. As they investigate, Lou tries to stay impartial but there are too many similarities between the two cases. She has never given up hope of discovering what happened to her sister, but that baggage might jeopardise the current investigation into an active killer.

Land of Shadows is the first book in the Detective Elouise Norton series set in Los Angeles. Lou grew up in a poor black neighbourhood and has worked her way out into a new life, though she is deeply scarred by the disappearance of her elder sister when she was a teenager. Her new investigation has echoes of Tori’s case involving the death of a young black girl and the chief suspect from thirty years ago. Along with her new white partner, Lou starts to follow leads, though she’s convinced she knows who the perpetrator is. To add to her stress, her husband is away in Japan on business and is conducting an affair. The tale then is a police procedural that is thoroughly personal to the detective. At one level this adds spice and tension, and on another feels like one massive coincidental plot device for that purpose. Consequently, while it’s an engaging read with an interesting lead character, there were some odd quirks that rang hollow – for example, it was a mystery to me as to why she’s allowed to investigate it at all, why there was a suggestion of suicide in Monie’s death, and why the original investigation into Tori’s death was so lackadaisical. While it builds to a tense denouement, the reveal felt a bit too contrived. Other than that, there’s a decent sense of place, it’s nicely paced becoming somewhat of a page-turner.  

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