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Land of Shadows by Rachel Howzell Hall
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Land of Shadows

by Rachel Howzell Hall

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I nearly gave up on this novel, but I'm glad I stuck with it. I think Rachel Howzell Hall worked a little too hard at the beginning to develop a 'shtick', but once the story progressed she focused more on the crimes and less on the joking around. The result was a crackerjack procedural that stars a great character and a sidekick that one hopes will be better developed in subsequent novels.

The formula of the dynamite black female police with her less flashy white male sidekick has been around, most recently in my experience with the novels of Owen Laukkanen. The tragedy of a sibling's death and its effect on a law enforcement character has likewise been a theme that's prevalent in this genre. However, everyone has a different story, and Ms. Hall did a fine job of using this playbook to really develop her characters, especially detective Eloise Norton.

The author's writing is a real strength. She incorporates the linguistic elements of her story's milieu into her narrative and dialog very effectively. To me, that was one of the most interesting aspects of her novel.

I won't go into detail on the plot- you can get that elsewhere. The story is tight and the procedural descriptions seem pretty real. The conclusion, though a little unexpected, was still very believable and the result of solid investigative work along with great instincts.

Land of Shadows is the first of a series by Ms. Hall, a fresh new voice in this genre. I look forward to making my way through the rest of her catalog soon! ( )
1 vote gmmartz | Jun 21, 2016 |
Vivid, engaging read starring Elouise Norton, a quietly geeky black detective in Los Angeles, who juggles an oft-cheating husband, a pushy (and young, and white, and male) new partner, and her loving BFFs while solving a murder that might tie back to the disappearance of her older sister when they were teens. Some incidental anti-trans humor and disappointingly sensationalistic handling of mental illness marred my enjoyment; but it's hard not to love Lou, and I still picked up the sequel. ( )
  lmeop | Mar 28, 2016 |
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 child 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 on 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.

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/review-land-shadows-rachel-howzell-hall ( )
  austcrimefiction | Feb 5, 2015 |
A refreshing lack of stereotypes I read a lot so it's always a treat to find a book I really enjoy from a previously unknown (to me) author. This police procedural/thriller features a strong, smart & compassionate female protagonist trying to juggle a demanding career with a failing marriage.
Elouise "Lou" Norton is a LAPD homicide detective who has risen above a childhood riddled with poverty & tragedy. She grew up in "the jungle", a bleak & sullen area of the city where career options include gangsta, teen pregnancy & welfare. It's also where she lost her sister. Twenty five years ago, Tori disappeared from behind Napoleon Crase's liquor store & it's haunted Lou ever since.
So when a teenage girl is found hanging on one of Crase's construction sites, Lou is more than a little interested. 
She has always believed he knows more about Tori than he let on. In the interim, he's become a wealthy & powerful businessman...one with a rep for getting physical with pretty young things. As Lou & her partner Det. Colin Taggert start to dig, another girl is found dead.
In alternate chapters, the story is told by the anonymous killer. The reader travels with him as he trolls for his next victim & becomes fascinated with Lou. It's obvious he's ill, fighting off hallucinations & physical tics with a steady diet of booze & coke. We also meet his companion, a young woman who knows what he's done & caters to his every need. 
It's a complex plot with many ties between the past & present. Several characters have secrets they've kept hidden for years & the author does a good job of slowly revealing their histories. There is a large diverse cast ranging from tech wizards to gang bangers & their respective neighbourhoods are well described in atmospheric & gritty prose. 
I really enjoyed this. It's refreshing to encounter a female cop who wasn't portrayed as the stereotypical bitch on wheels, always at odds with her male counterparts. She's not an iconoclastic loner with her name engraved on a bar stool. Lou is smart, acerbic & popular with her colleagues. She shows up each day armed with a gun & the black humour that's as necessary as kevlar for protection ("I could spot a fake Chanel handbag quicker than I could spot a hooker on fire").
Her achilles heel is her husband who creates popular video games. They've been married for 11 years & his success affords them an affluent lifestyle. Unfortunately, he's not a big fan of monogamy & Lou suspects he's fallen off the wagon again (quick moment of your time, Lou....kick this rat bastard to the curb....NOW). Other characters include her BFF's Lena & Syeeda, a freelance reporter featured in the book "No One Knows You're Here". Their relationships come across as genuine, the kind of gal pals who have your back.
Colin is an unwitting source of humour. He's a recent transplant from Colorado & couldn't be a bigger fish out of water. Compared to his home town, LA might as well be Mars & his character is the perfect foil for the street smart Lou.
Except for chapters narrated by the killer, the story is told from Lou's POV. The prose is fluid, descriptive & witty as we accompany her throughout the investigation. Her wry comments concerning the city & its' inhabitants run the gamut from funny to poignant, making the reader feel as if they're in the car with her, riding shotgun.
If pressed, I had two minor quibbles with the story. One concerns the sister of the first victim. Without divulging more of the plot ( there are some startling revelations in store), she begins her own investigation with Lou's tacit support & this just didn't ring true for me. I get that Lou identifies with being the sister left behind but I doubt any homicide detective would encourage a family member to actively search for a dangerous killer.
The other is the amount of space dedicated to flashbacks into Lou & Tori's childhood. We revisit much of their life before Tori was snatched & I felt this slowed the pace & interrupted the mounting tension of the current investigation. However, other readers may enjoy this in-depth history so I think it's just a matter of taste. 
By the end, our killer is uncovered & Lou is left reeling from what she learns of Tori's fate. It's a stylish, fast paced read that keeps you turning the pages. I would definitely pick up a sequel to find out what's in store next for Lou & Co. ( )
  RowingRabbit | Sep 14, 2014 |
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Twenty- four hours a day somebody is running, somebody else is
trying to catch him.
—RAYMOND CHANDLER, The Long Goodbye
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For Maya Grace
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A skeptical Lou Norton of the Los Angeles police department investigates increasingly compelling parallels between the suspicious suicide of a teenage girl and the unsolved murder of Lou's sister.

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