I read Steph Cha’s first novel a few months ago and in that time, I’ve discovered her work outside of this series is as important as the series itself. She’s listed as the “noir” editor for the LA Review of Books and it appears she writes for the LA Times on a weekly basis. Her column in the Times which covered Linda Fairstein’s unfortunate history as a prosecutor in the Central Park Five case* (and her continuously unrepentant attitude for how the case was handled) helped inspire the Mystery Writers of America to withdraw the prestigious Grand Dagger Award from Fairstein. She’s got a lot going on.
There are three books in this series and I hope she returns to it sooner than later. Because she definitely improved on her first. The characters feel more lived in and not just because they are familiar now but because Cha improved on both characterization and atmosphere. And the mystery itself is a very interesting whodunnit that doesn’t get resolved until near the end. Mystery reveals rarely surprise me anymore and while this one didn’t either, it resolved itself in a way I didn’t expect and really came to appreciate.
If hardboiled refers to the style of loner detective in the Chandler mold that Cha is clearly aping, while noir refers to characters caught up in bad circumstances who can’t really escape them, Cha does a great job here of fusing the two. She also gets major points from me in addressing both racism (especially anti-black racism) and rape in ways that are honest and responsible. Rape and sexual assault are obviously recurring themes in bestselling mysteries and they’re usually portrayed in an awful manner, even by female authors. I’m impressed with how Cha handled it.
*Which was brought to her attention by fellow mystery scribe Attica Locke.