Saturday, July 11, 2015

Murder on Bamboo Avenue and Grave on Grand Avenue by Naomi Hirahara

Ever since I went to LA last August to see Lil Bub, I have been thinking about a trip to explore the city LA has a long noir and crime lit tradition, but I'm not familiar with recent stories set in the city. I was thrilled to find this new series with a young protagonist and a lot of issues any young woman can recognize. Plus, bikes!

Ellie Rush is a LA native, a new cop on bike patrol, and an expert at code switching. She's half Japanese American but looks more white than Asian, and speaks Spanish fluently. She has a college degree, and a native's understanding of LA and its cultures (including an ability to use public transit) along with deep roots in the city, but realizes she's in a job where as a minority and a woman she's battling the LAPD boys' network and dealing with issues of racism and sexism. She's ambitious and hardworking, but wants to get ahead on her own merits and avoid being seen as helped too much by her aunt Cheryl Toma, second in command in the LAPD ("more like fourth according to the org chart," Ellie's mom sniffs.)

Murder on Bamboo Avenue starts with Ellie being first on the scene at a woman's murder, and surprised when it's someone she knows. Jenny Nguyen's death is shocking but the mysteries of her life--Where was she living? Why do some swear she was interested in a job at LA City Hall, but others say she knew nothing about politics? Where is Jenny's notebook?--intrigue Ellie. Grave on Grand Avenue finds Ellie dealing with the theft of her car, and the death of a Mexican gardener. Supposedly the gardener was trying to steal the cello of a Chinese superstar classical musician leaving Disney Hall, but why was he answering Ellie's questions five minutes earlier if that was his plan? Ellie's best friend Nay quickly gets involved working the journalism angle (her new major) and adding to the havoc, and we meet additional allies and friends of Ellie.

Hirahara is best known for her other series with elderly gardener Mas Arai, modeled on her dad. I'm hoping for more Ellie Rush books in the near future. They are a solid mysteries with a great detective who is sensible and smart, and have a new and unusual look into police work.

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