Arts & Culture

Summer reads

Novels of memory, past romance, betrayal, and a mickey.

Photo illustration: Mark Zurolo '01MFA.

Photo illustration: Mark Zurolo '01MFA.

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Follow Her Home, A Mystery
Steph Cha ’10JD
Minotaur Books, $24.99
Reviewed by Alex Beam ’75

Steph Cha sets the bar high in her debut thriller Follow Her Home. Her protagonist, the 26-year-old “overeducated bum and bored civilian” Juniper Song, worships Philip Marlowe, the hard-boiled star of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles whodunits. Song studied Chandler at Yale, and while pursuing her amateur detective work all over her native Los Angeles, she self-consciously dogs her hero’s footsteps.

“What did Marlowe do when he heard that Terry Lennox was dead?” Song asks, referring to Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye. “He mixed himself a mourning drink, lit himself a mourning cigarette, and started to ask questions.” That is exactly what Cha’s chain-smoking, tough-gal protagonist does, to excellent and thrilling effect.

The L.A. noir recipe has changed a bit since Chandler’s day. Song succeeds in locating a young Korean courtesan after the girl’s Facebook page reveals that she “just checked in @ the Red Palace.” But Marlowe’s legacy is well served by Cha’s crackling prose style and rapid-fire plot elements. Song gets cold-cocked while on a stakeout, finds a corpse in the trunk of her car, and even swallows a mickey served up by a Korean American madam. Somewhere, Raymond Chandler is nodding, approvingly.

Alex Beam ’75 is the author of the book American Crucifixion, about the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. It will be published next year.