Read for CBR 10 Bingo: Underrepresented. Steph Cha is a Korean-American mystery writer in a field dominated by white people (mostly men).
I’m usually graceful when I review first time novelists, so while there was a lot that annoyed me about Steph Cha’s debut, I generally enjoyed it and am going to lean mostly on the positives.
I love hard boiled/noir fiction. Apparently, so does Steph Cha and her main character (and author ancillary) Junipero Song. The book is littered with references to Chandler, Macdonald and Hammett, three of the greats (Macdondald is my personal favorite). I’m not sure it made the book great but it appealed to this reader.
Cha fancies her Junipero Song character a private eye in the Marlowe fashion, so she has her get invested in the typically simple case that turns out not to be all that it seems. Our heroine has to deal with sketchy characters, red herrings, and getting knocked out a few times (in the grand tradition of all PI novels), moving through the shady streets of LA with only gumption as her aide.
One big reason to read this book, aside from what I wrote above, is the perspective of a Korean woman instead of yet another white guy. Cha address racism, specifically the fetishization of Asian women by white men, and the effects that has on Korean womanhood. It’s not something I read about often in mystery fiction and, while I was aware of this particular strain of racism, I didn’t know enough about the impact it has on Asian (specifically Korean women). So it was good to learn.
There are a lot of negatives with this book: it’s poorly paced, the dialogue and characters could use some major work, Song’s backstory is interspersed throughout the narrative as a way to make the two cases look similar and I get why Cha did that but it takes from the momentum she builds in her story. Cha may admire Chandler but she is a long way to finding her own voice as a writer. These things combined prevented me from giving the book my standard grade 4-stars.
But I think the positives outweigh the negatives. I like Cha’s taste in writing and I think she’s on to something, even if it needs fine tuning. I’ll check out more of this series.