Monday, July 1, 2013

You And All Your Pieces [Shadows]

Follow Her Home is the first offering from L.A. native Steph Cha. Cha quite clearly loves the noir masters like Chandler and Hammett – a love she passes on to her protagonist Juniper Song. By embracing these influences she is able to create a likeable heroine and connect with readers all in the same introductory space and get the story moving quickly. In a way Song's experiences mirror the author's possible apprehensions. Writing a first novel is a lot like having your first case as a private eye – you have some idea of how things should fit together, but until you are really in it for real you can't be all that sure how things will shake out. Thus having the literary touchstones to help serve as a guide can only be a comfort.

This book does follow tried and true conventions in some respects. It moves fast, like all noir should in my opinion. The genre's best examples are page turners that hook you early and send you careening into dark places both physical and emotional. Places where dead bodies are sure to pile up and deceptions only seem to get deeper and more layered as time passes.

Song is enlisted by her best friend Luke to investigate the possibility of an affair between his big shot lawyer father and an attractive young woman, Lori Lim, who works at his firm. This is merely how we get started however, we quickly learn that Song has gone snooping in the past and that the results were somehow disastrous. Through this secondary mystery we will learn more about Song's past and her current motivations too succeed where she once failed.

Many a noir has begun with a mysterious woman being followed or otherwise investigated. Though this is the first time I have personally read such a novel with a female gumshoe. [not that there aren't examples out there, but young boys don't typically go for Nancy Drew mysteries]. Call me a sexist if you must, but  the one time I caught ten minutes of an episode of the tv adaptation of the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency series - I was decidedly not into it.

As a sleuth Juniper is a bit of a smart-ass, but if your hero is Philip Marlowe this is to be expected. Maybe that is why I found it easier to like the character. It didn't feel like 'gendered genre fiction'. It was simply a good modern noir story for anyone who appreciates mystery and plot twists. Song often thinks in terms of what Marlowe would be doing in her position, not having a wealth of previous cases to fall back on. I also had one of those weird 'meta moments' when Song mentioned Murakami being on a certain bookshelf – if you glance at my goodreads shelf just now you'll see I'm currently reading Kafka on the Shore. 

I don't want to give much of the plot away, so I won't go too far into detail. I think it's enough to say that the book kept me engaged throughout the duration. I read it in two days and enjoyed it more than I expected. I'll gladly check out what Cha puts out next though I'm curious to see if it will be another 'Juniper Song Mystery'. I guess I could see it happening because so many of these things turn into series – though in my view that is also why many of them fall into a rut of feeling formulaic in short order. I suppose Hammett's Continental Op, and Chandler's Marlowe were notable exceptions to the rule so maybe underestimating the staying power of Cha's heroine would be a mistake on my part.

Whatever the case may be, this was a solid debut by my reckoning. For the song on this one I have selected “Shadows” by Warpaint. Fittingly enough a kick-ass 'girl band' also, from L.A. It was featured on their 2010 debut full length The Fool which was one of my favorites from the year. Oh, and one last point of curious interest - whilst  I was trying to make up my mind on a song for this review I stumbled onto some mock up movie trailers for this. I kid you not. It must have been a school assignment for a whole class or something, because there were quite a few and they all had groups of four to five students in them. It was one of those strange things that could only be possible on the internet.


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