Beware Beware: A Juniper Song Mystery
Steph Cha
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Buy *Beware Beware: A Juniper Song Mystery* by Steph Chaonline

Beware Beware: A Juniper Song Mystery
Steph Cha
Minotaur Books
304 pages
August 2014
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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More cynical and world-weary after the events in Follow Her Home, Juniper Song finds herself working as a detective for Lindley and Flores, a private agency located out of a small office in Koreatown and run by Juniper’s friends, ex-cop Arturo Flores and investigator Chaz Lindley. Both men refuse to deal with “big mysteries and anything that’s not straightforward,” instead focusing on the general craziness of detective work in a city where dreams can quickly be tarnished.

In Los Angeles, layers of ostentation, stardust and fakery clash daily with petty criminals, drug-dealers, star-struck wannabes, and regular hardworking families. While everyone seems to be on the make, hustling for status, Juniper still dreams of Philip Marlowe, a vision made all the more real when Chaz gives Juniper a client by the name of Daphne Freamon. Daphne is a celebrated New York artist and she needs someone to check up on her boyfriend, handsome Jamie Landon, who is acting as personal assistant to hunky, late-forties A-list actor Joe Tilley.

On the phone from New York, Daphne tells Juniper that Jamie is supposed to be helping Joe write a new screenplay, but Jamie has a coke habit. He’s been to rehab twice, and now he’s been disappearing for days at a time. Drugs are an easy scapegoat for this sexy, good-hearted gigolo who seems just a bit too vacuous and needy. Beautiful, bewitching Daphne is afraid Jamie is falling off the wagon yet again.

Juniper plunges into the case with her usual gusto, following the trail from Jamie’s apartment in West Hollywood to a gated house in Encino, to the famous Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, a place Juniper readily admits she has little use for: “this part of town is just a dingy neighborhood dressed up with buzzing neon lights and the dull trodden stars of the walk of fame.”

Juniper is stultified by a dead social life and a love life whose embers are barely glowing. Back in her Echo Park apartment, she can barely shake the events of less than a month earlier when the mother of Lori Lim, her roommate, was arrested for murder. Still, more is going on in this novel than Juniper and Lori’s past, Jamie’s irresponsibility, and Daphne’s built-in closeness and strange readiness to share her innermost secrets with Juniper.

In what is a great sequel to Follow Her Home, Cha’s prose is more developed and her plot more creative, far from the tough-guy language of Chandler and traditional noir. A cute girlish quality runs through the voice of this story, whether Juniper is taking down a gang member manipulating Lori or being cross-examined by sturdy LAPD Detective Veronica Sanchez (she’s unconvinced that Joe Tilley’s death by suicide is a straight-up Hollywood death scandal). Cha has her finger on the pulse of Los Angeles’ glitz and glamour. Along the way, Juniper narrowly escapes seduction and is threatened by drug-dealing hoods while going nose-to-nose with a fearsome but super-smart crime boss, who is less corrupt than Jamie’s wealthy clients.

Cleverly interspersing her feisty heroine’s past with her present so that we get a better understanding of Juniper’s character and what motivates her, Cha presents a picture of crushed and broken dreams. From Theodore, Joe’s stoner son, to Jamie, rumored to have been snorting coke while his friend was dying, to the salubrious Los Feliz home of Joe Tilley’s B-actress wife, Juniper follows the “Marlowe drive”--the itchy longing to uncover ugly soil and dislodge the bad fruit rooted below. Mostly Juniper seems a little dazed and dissatisfied, especially when she meets Tilley’s hot-shot publicist, Alex Caldwell. Juniper is convinced Caldwell is hiding something, perhaps even protecting Joe Tilley while attempting to clean up his own messes.

In adrenalin-fueled prose, Juniper solves the latent mystery behind Tilley’s demise, but closure leaves a bitter taste in her mouth. In the process, she becomes much darker, more reflective, more cynical and ruthless. Cha lays down a slippery slope of lying, deceit and brutality, the pain of the past balanced against Juniper’s resilience in the face of death.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2014

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