Rachel Howzell Hall, “Land of Shadows”

land-of-shadowsOne word: energy.

Another: attitude.

Rachel Howzell Hall’s writing has both.

In abundance.

Add a terrific issue (urban renewal), a likable and feisty detective (Elouise Norton) and a vivid setting (a glam-free L.A.) and you’ve got a winner. Land of Shadows is just that.

More than anything else, however, Land of Shadows is Elouise “Lou” Norton. This is her book. Hall infuses Norton with such a strong point of view that you can’t help but go for the ride.

The lines fly:

“After working all day and then being called back in, I need a Billie Holliday. Vodka, grenadine, and ginger ale, all living happily ever after in my bloodstream.”

“The more time passed, the more witnesses forgot and the more people grew reluctant to talk. How far you got in the first forty-eight hours helped determine whether you would be taking victory laps or playing a sad trombone.”

“Greg had sent creamy brown roses when he had been cheating on me with Amarie. And when I had busted him texting her while he was supposed to watching Letterman, he upgraded my Ford to the almighty Porsche. Purple roses … Who was the lucky whore now? And what would he buy me next? A space shuttle?”

“He was so shiny that he probably bled Windex, so clean, he probably peed Lysol.”

You get the idea. Lou is full-blooded, opinionated. And she’s trying to hold her own in a world of male cops, including a new partner, Colin, fresh from Colorado Springs. “He was almost hot but then, in the LAPD’s candy shop, perfection didn’t matter.”

And this new case leads her through a whole bunch of men. And (see quote number three above) there’s the questionable husband always in the background.

Snappy with a line and quick with a comeback, Lou Norton also has a heart. She feels the pain of her victims. That’s in part because she lost her own sister Tori, mysteriously, twenty-five years ago. And this new case, involving a young teenager found hanging in a closet, may lead back to the same set of characters that knew something about what happened to Tori. Lou and Tori were from the heart of “black Los Angeles.” Lou knows every inch of this ground and this case forces her to re-live the most haunting moments of her youth.

“Sometimes, I wished that I could read something horrible in the newspaper and say, ‘Wow, that’s too bad,’ then drive down the hill to buy a handbag and a Frappuccino. But I can’t, no matter how hard I try, even when I’m doing just that. One day I will luck out. One day, a callus will form around that part of my heart, and then I will stop caring like some cops, and then I will be as good as I can be. This will lead me to Hell, but at least I won’t care only because I can’t.”

Land of Shadows draws its plot straight out of the controversial, real-life issues surrounding the attempted re-development of Santa Barbara Plaza. That project’s intractable issues were the source of considerable real-life news coverage that entangled big-city politicians and big-time developers. Hall takes full advantage of the chance to highlight the complexity of such “renewal” efforts, spotlighting those who line their pockets and locals who left out in the cold.

Hall ramps up the suspense to a taut finish and sets up a beautiful hand-off to the next book, Skies of Ash.

What a book.

Movie producers? Television series writers and developers? Come check out Elouise Norton.


Rachel Howzell Hall’s website.