Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha is a novel about two families in Los Angeles – one Korean-American and one African-American. It is a fictionalised version of a real case in which Soon Ja Du, a Korean female convenience store owner, shot and killed a 15-year-old African-American girl called Latasha Harlins in 1991. Du was convicted of voluntary manslaughter but didn’t receive a jail sentence. In the novel, 15-year-old Ava Matthews is shot and killed by Jung-Ja Han who believed Ava was attempting to steal milk from her store. The narrative alternates between both families and the past and the present. Ava’s brother and cousin, Shawn and Ray, struggle to cope in the aftermath of Ava’s death while Jung-Ja changes her name to Yvonne Park and her daughter, Grace, grows up unaware of the incident until the past catches up with them. Cha takes great care to show the impact of events on both sides and the result is a powerful depiction of the background behind racial tensions in Los Angeles in the early 1990s and beyond.
The Wire in the Blood by Val McDermid is the second book in the crime fiction series featuring psychological profiler Dr. Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan. Hill and Jordan have both moved on from their first case with Hill busy setting up a new national offender profiling task force and Jordan taking on a new job on promotion elsewhere. Hill’s team are looking into connections between the disappearances of several teenage girls initially assumed to be troubled runaways. One of Hill’s proteges, Shaz Bowman, correctly identifies that they were killed by the popular primetime television presenter, Jacko Vance, who does indeed turn out to be a psychopathic serial killer beneath the facade of a much-loved national treasure, thereby hiding in plain sight. The team considers Shaz’s theory to be ludicrously far-fetched despite the solid evidence, but when she is brutally murdered, Hill and Jordan find themselves in a race against time to catch Vance before he can strike again. This second outing therefore isn’t a whodunnit as such, but is still a satisfying page-turner and thankfully not quite as relentlessly gory as The Mermaids Singing.
I’ve had a copy of Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann on my Kindle for ages. It is a true crime book about a series of murders in Osage County in the 192os. Many Osage Native Americans were entitled to substantial profits from newly discovered oil deposits on their land in Oklahoma, having been forced to resettle there from Kansas after the American Civil War. However, several were killed in mysterious circumstances involving poisoning, arson and fatal gunshot wounds. Grann focuses on the family of Mollie Burkhart, an Osage woman who was married to a white man, Ernest Burkhart. A complex web of corruption eventually saw J. Edgar Hoover, the young director of the newly created Bureau of Investigation (later the FBI), turn to a former Texas Ranger called Tom White to help investigate the case using undercover agents.
Coincidentally, a film adaptation of the book directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro went into production just this week. It’s clear that Grann had to pad the story out a bit in order to fill a full-length book (the final third mostly details how he carried out his research and what might have been missed by the FBI at the time) but it’s a fascinating story and I think it will translate well to the big screen.