On my blog today, I have a guest post from author Rachel Howzell Hall and a review of her new book City of Saviours.
Character as a Cure by Rachel Howzell Hall
I read a lot.
As a kid, no one knew how I looked because a book always covered my face. From Jackie Collins to Stephen King, from D.H. Lawrence to Alice Walker, I read everything.
Problem was I identified with every character except for characters that represented me, my part of Los Angeles, my experience as an African-American woman.
Sure, Michael Connelly and Walter Mosley, Raymond Chandler and Daschell Hammett put Los Angeles mystery on the map. But in them, I did not see me. And I wondered, what would it look like to have a native Angeleno, a black Angeleno, who grew up working class but went to college and came back home to solve mysteries… What would that look like and who’s gonna write that?
Paula L. Wood wrote that story first in her Charlotte Justice series. These post-Los Angeles riot stories helped meet my need. But I needed more. I deserved more. Hell, I’d purchased my share, and yours, and yours over there of books. Why wouldn’t someone write about my friends, me, my Los Angeles?
In 2002, I’d already published my first novel A Quiet Storm. It’s an L.A. story, with mystery elements but it wasn’t a procedural. I wanted to write that mystery but I was scared—fear of failing, fear of not knowing enough. But then, in 2003, while pregnant with my daughter, I was diagnosed with cancer. That’s when I met true fear.
After successful surgeries and a healthy baby girl, I had another cancer scare. Life had never been a smooth journey for me, but now? So, I asked myself: What do I want to do before I’m taken from this place?
Buy a Benz. Write a crime novel.
Getting the car was easy – my credit was spotless.
Writing that novel, though? I wasn’t a cop. I didn’t know cops. But I knew Los Angeles. And I knew that mystery writers threw some of the best writing conventions ever. And what’s the worst that could happen? I’d beat cancer—nothing could scare me more than that.
Elouise Norton, LAPD Homicide Detective, came out of my frustration as a reader, came out of a desire to see my experience on a page, came out of my embrace of life. She has been my therapy—being a survivor still means living with that threat each day—and she has been my ambassador—I’ve met incredible readers and writers and traveled to so many places because of her.
Lou has changed over the course of four books and in this last, I had to break her. A woman can only be so strong for so long and I wanted to reflect that in her. In City of Saviors, all the stress of the prior three books culminates in this story. She’s weaker, she’s stronger—but she holds fast to hope. Just as I do. She ugly-cries, she laughs, she’s pissed off, she eats bags of Doritos and sometimes, refuses to acknowledge how much she hurts—just like you, just like me.
Necessity is the mother of invention. Lou Norton came out of a selfish need of mine but I’m incredibly proud to share her with you now. Hope she helps—she has certainly helped me.
About the book
Seventy-three-year-old Eugene Washington appears to have died in an unremarkable way, but LAPD homicide detective Elouise “”Lou”” Norton is positive that something isn’t right. Especially when she learns that the only family Washington had was his fellow church-goers. Could the murderer be sitting in one of those red velvet pews? And is someone protecting the wolf in the flock? Lou must force the truth into the light before it’s too late
City of Saviours is the fourth book in the series to feature Lou Norton but the first that I have read. Obviously, there is a lot of back story but it didn’t stop me enjoying the book and it was easy to read as a standalone. If anything, the back story has made me intrigued about what I have missed.
Lou is my new favourite heroine. A female, black police officer, she has to prove herself more than necessary that she can do her job. She does get respect from her immediate team, although she isn’t entirely trusting of them. There are a few in the force who would be happy to see her fail.
The murder is a strange one. Lou insists that it isn’t natural causes immediately and demands that the property and Eugene’s life is thoroughly investigated. It is when I read books like this that I am reminded that I would be useless working in forensics. With the vivid description of what they had to work through in the property, I could practically see, smell and taste everything. My skin was crawling at times even though living in the North West of England the weather was slightly different to a Los Angeles heatwave.
It wasn’t all about the crime, there was also focus on her private life, the relationship with her ex-husband, best friends and a tentative relationship with Sam. It was this part of the novel where I noticed the back story more.
It is a brilliant introduction to an established series that I plan on catching up with.
With thanks to the author for the fantastic guest post and the publisher for the copy received.