Top positive review
The many layers of L.A.
December 1, 2019
When we hear the letters "L.A." we think of movie stars living in Beverly Hills. But for every person who lives in a Beverly Hills mansion, there are thousands who live in trailer parks, apartment buildings, condos, and subdivisions - up-scale, down-scale, and everything in between.
The City of the Angels started out as a Spanish mission to convert Native Americans. Since then there have been waves of immigration. Silent movie producers looking for sunshine. Farmers looking for a long growing season. Mexicans looking for jobs. Southern Blacks looking for an even break. Hippies, yuppies, wanna-be's, loners, weirdos, and dot.com millionaires. They've all dropped into the melting pot that is L.A.
Similarly, for every movie or television star, there are thousands of technicians and unknowns. Extras, grips, set dressers, cue-card holders, you-name-it. And there are teachers and cops and nurses and plumbers and all the other professions that spring up in any human settlement anywhere. The entertainment industry isn't the only game in town anymore, but it's the one almost everyone wants to break into.
Detective Eve Ronin of the LASD is one of the exceptions. Born to a narcissistic bit-part actress who had no time for her children, Eve raised herself and her siblings. She's grateful for the media windfall that got her a promotion onto the homicide squad, but being interviewed by a TV reporter simply means more resentment from her male colleagues and there's already plenty of that to deal with.
Now Eve is the lead detective on a baffling case that has plenty of blood, but no bodies. Discontented housewife Tanya Kenworth has left her husband behind in a small northern town and brought her two children to L.A. Like Eve's mother, her urge to be an actress trumps her children's well-being.
But where are Tanya and Caitlin and Troy? Are they alive or dead? And who was responsible? The children's father seems distraught, but an ex-husband is always a suspect. Tanya's swaggering abusive live-in boyfriend has a good alibi, but Eve's partner is suspicious of it. And Eve's putting her money (and her professional reputation) on a strange plumber who's obsessed with "The Planet of the Apes", right down to owning his own costume. Is he using his ready access to houses to steal, rape, or murder?
This book isn't great literature, but it's fun and Eve is a likable character most of us can relate to. A young woman in a male-dominated field, she battles her colleagues' perception that she's too inexperienced to be good at her job and that a woman can NEVER be a good cop, regardless of experience. She knows that attitude is a given, but she's young enough to let it get to her anyway. She second-guesses herself and tries to be Super Woman, while the other cops look on and snicker.
I think this author does a fine job of setting his scene and developing his characters. I felt like I was riding those streets with Eve and her partner. The characters - admirable or not - are all recognizable people. The cops' dark humor is both entertaining and realistic. I like that Eve's personal problems don't dominate the book, as happens in so many modern detective stories. She's just a young woman whose nutty mother and absent father left her with a certain lack of confidence and ability to trust. But SHE does have friends and she works well with her colleagues when they let her.
I'm impressed by the nuances this author works into his story. Eve isn't the lone, put-upon female hero, struggling against sexism and ageism. All her colleagues are ready to stick a knife in each other if the occasion merits it. Cops are ambitious and there isn't enough glory to go around. Yes, they present a fiercely united front to "civilians", but they also fight like starving wolves for promotions, recognition, or just bragging rights. And the scariest person in the department (as Eve quickly finds out) is the African-American woman in charge of the forensics team. Don't mess with Nan!
This could be called a "police procedural" without getting any argument from me. As a reader of older mysteries, I'm still amazed at the role of technology in police work today. In some ways, detectives today appear to have it easy. On the flip side, every "perp" has binged-watched the CSI series and knows all the tricks. Police have to constantly race to stay ahead of the game.
The ending is over-the-top dramatic, but stops short of being farcical. We know from headlines that a deranged man will do incredible things to gain possession of anything or anyone that meets his sick needs. And California wildfires are a constant danger. Maybe Paradise was never meant to be lived in.
A few times the author insulted my intelligence by pointing out things I could figure out on my own. But on the whole I'm glad I picked this book as my Kindle First selection. It's just a damned good read. Isn't that what we're all looking for?