Monday, November 10, 2014

A Taut New Thriller from Rachel Howzell Hall

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

Twenty-five years ago, Elouise Norton's older sister, Tori, was caught stealing candy from a neighborhood store owned by a man named Napoleon Crase. In a panic, Elouise ran from the store and never saw her sister again. The police conducted a perfunctory investigation but never discovered what might have happened to Tori.

Perhaps the investigation was so slipshod because the cops were lazy or perhaps because they were overburdened. Perhaps it was because the victim, Tori, was a black teenager who did not have a sterling reputation to begin with. But whatever the case, a quarter of a century later, Elouise remains haunted by the loss of her sister and has become a homicide detective herself, having promised her mother that she would yet bring Tori home.

Elouise (Lou) and her newbie white male partner are called to the scene of a condominium construction site, where a seventeen-year-old girl named Monique Dawson has been found hanging in a closet. Lou's new partner, Colin Taggert, jumps to the conclusion that the dead girl was a suicide, but Lou quickly disabuses him of that notion and insists, correctly, that Monique is the victim of a homicide.

Interestingly, the condo development project is owned by Napoleon Crase who, in the years since Tori's disappearance, has pulled himself up by the bootstraps to become a millionaire developer, and the site of the project is very near the site of the store where Tori disappeared.

Inevitably, these coincidences will weigh on Lou, but will they compromise her ability to conduct a full and fair investigation into the death of Monique Dawson? And as if she doesn't have enough on her mind to begin with, Lou's husband, a game developer, is in Japan. He's calling Lou infrequently and is generally staying out of touch. Lou wonders if he's cheating; if so, it wouldn't be the first time. The last time Lou caught him, he "apologized" by buying her a $90,000 Porsche SUV, but that may not be enough if he's straying again.

Lou pursues the case, which takes a variety of twists and turns and involves some pretty sleazy characters. But she's a detective driven by the need to know the truth and she pursues it with a grim determination. She's a new and original character, and Rachel Howzell Hall introduces her in a very compelling story. Hall also creates a very convincing and intriguing setting in an area of south L.A. that's undergoing a black gentrification, and the end result is a book that will appeal to large numbers of crime fiction readers. I'm looking forward eagerly to Lou's next case.

Go To England, Visit St. Albans, Thank Me Later

The St. Albans MapguideThe St. Albans Mapguide by Michael Middleditch
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am in love with these guidebooks and no one's going to stop me marrying them!

Michael Middleditch produced only a few of these very informative Mapguides and they were mostly of major destinations: London, NY, Paris, and Amsterdam; all except for this one. St. Albans.


Where the F is St. Albans?! You'll find it just north of London, about a 30 minute train ride, and thus it makes for a very manageable and delightful day trip out of London.

Why delightful? Well, for tourists it packs in, pound for pound per square mile, the most sights of interest you're likely to see outside of London. It's great for walking about in circular routes that will take you by the famed cathedral and historical pubs like...

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks (tee-hee!), one among a handful which are vying for the "oldest pub in England" title.
(I love that one of the top googled pics of this historic pub includes my brother [seated, center] and my mom [rightside, in blue top, facing away]) well as the not-to-be-missed Roman ruins (like a very mini Colosseum and better than anything I saw in London!) and their accompanying museum (informative for adults and kid friendly too).


If you go, try to include a walk along Fishpool Street with its dangerous-if-you're-drunk sidewalk, something to be wary of for visitors of excellent pubs like the Red Lion.

St. Albans is a marvelous little place that is more than just a postcardy photo-op. It's a living, working town that combines a bit of fun for vacationers who also want to see - maybe not the work-a-day world of Bedford, Bethnal Green or Slough - but something closer to a slice of England's reality beyond the holiday set. Middleditch's booklet does a bang up job of encapsulating the town's sense of community, what it has to offer and just overall illuminating this little patch of England.

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