After rocketing into the world of local crime drama with her first two novels, Steph Cha continues to unfold her innate talent for discerning the hidden secrets behind
the Los Angeles criminal underworld through the wisecracking first-person point of view of Juniper Song. With her propensity for fast-paced writing and a natural ear for dialog, Cha’s development as a writer is on considerable display, transforming what is essentially a story about a missing Armenian American girl into a reflection on the Armenian Genocide, the complexities of a murder investigation, and the issues involved
with surrogate motherhood, from an Armenian perspective.
The story begins when Rubina Gasparian comes into Lindley & Flores, asking Juniper to trail her rebellious cousin, Lusig. Because Rubina and her husband, Van--both doctors--are unable to conceive, Lusig is pregnant through IVF with Rubina’s child. Rubina clearly loves Lusig like a sister,
and she’s concerned for her cousin’s welfare. Lusig is headstrong and stubborn, and Rubina
fears that Lusig is mistreating her body. She’s hardly “slamming shots and sharing needles,” but she likes to party.
Thanks to Rubina’s inquiry, the real issue here is the tragic disappearance of Lusig’s best friend, Nora,
who has been missing for almost a month. The police have been looking for her, but the case has largely gone cold.
Everyone, including Nora’s family, her boyfriend, Chris, and also Lusig, fear the worst.
Just weeks leading up to Nora’s vanishing, she had been the victim of a campaign of harassment, her blog about the horrors of the Armenian Genocide receiving over eight hundred comments, some
of which actually threatened her with rape and murder. The blog itself actually went semi-viral when Nora’s disappearance made headlines. Several of the comments snag Juniper’s attention, and she feels a visceral stab of disgust at how the Internet can bring out the worst in people.
Because Juniper is now an assistant detective and is so good at surveillance, her instinct is to help Rubina by following Lusig around the city, first spying her at a Pasadena restaurant where she’s having lunch with Chris. Soon enough, Juniper bonds with the girl, clearly drawn to Lusig’s independent streak. The friendship, however,
draws Juniper further into the aftermath of Nora, “the Armenian sweetheart” whose mysterious vanishing has continued to ripple through the closely-knit Gasparian family and Glendale’s Armenian community, a group that has become largely defined by their victimhood and the hundred-year-old persecution that festers beneath the weight of the Turkish government’s denial of the genocide.
Determined to leave no stone unturned, Juniper calls her old friend, sharp-eyed Veronica Sanchez,
a hotshot murder detective with the LAPD who used to work with Arturo, Juniper’s boss. Sadly,
Veronica reiterates that there’s been no progress in the case, and Rubina restates that she’s not impressed with the heroic efforts of the boys in blue. Meanwhile, the Armenian genocide centennial is approaching in a city where the community is seen as a prominent political, social, and economic force. From a battle for a new genocide memorial, to an escalation of hate (the three notes that were placed in Nora’s post box shortly before she vanished), to a group of genocide deniers trying to obscure the truth in favor of whitewashing history, to the shady goings-on of Enver Kizil, who screams to Juniper that Nora was nothing but “a dirty whore,” Juniper works to uncover the pieces of this story, positive that the answers are breathing near her, tantalizingly just out of reach.
As the story races along, we can’t help but enjoy Cha’s take on Los Angeles as she molds her heroine’s past into her present in witty and acerbic tones. A tough cookie to the last, Juniper finds herself plunging deeper and deeper into the urban bowels of the city, stumbling into a mystery involving a group of Korean mobsters. While Juniper’s attraction to Rob, a young unemployed lawyer, is one of the nicer elements of the story (perhaps a more permanent love interest in the next book?), Lusig becomes the catalyst for the renewed investigation that has long gone cold. Van Gasparian may know something more about Nora’s disappearance than he’s letting on, an event that has secretly created a deep split in this tight-knit family. From the suburbs of Glendale
and Century City’s sleek boulevards, to the sleazy strip clubs of Torrance and the local neighborhood of Echo Park, where Juniper lives in her tiny two-bedroom apartment, a certain character proves to have connections to some of the shadiest people in Los Angeles--the kind of people that takes teams of police years of hard work to track down.
Unfolding blackmailers, gambling dens, strip joints, violent murder, and other seedy events in decadent, beautiful Los Angeles, Cha once again gives us the whole enchilada
as Juniper’s carefully constructed reality--and the ghost of a missing girl--ends up crumbling in the aftermath of a
mistaken and irreconcilable act.