Land of Shadows - Rachel Howzell Hall

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.