by Naomi Hirahara
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Officer Ellie Rush’s friends shook their heads when she joined the LAPD, accusing her of joining the dark side.
But as the 23-year-old niece of Assistant Police Chief Cheryl Toma and the great-granddaughter of a law enforcement officer in one of the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II, she has crime-solving in her blood.
While on patrol as a bicycle cop along Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles, Ellie discovers a missing person flyer with the photograph of a young woman she recognizes and a contact email she also recognizes. The girl, Jenny Nguyen, is a former classmate of Ellie’s at Pan Pacific West College; the email address is that of a friend, Rickie Plata.
As information unfolds, a contradictory picture emerges of Jenny. A student from Vietnam, she had run out of money and wasn’t in school. She had broken up with her boyfriend, artist Tuan Le. She was living in a car that her best friend had lent her. She was working from the Census Bureau doing field surveys. She was shot on a short, dark street. Her laptop and cell phone were missing, but not her purse or money. Some people described her as quiet and private, a person who did her job and went home; others described her as determined, ambitious and gunning for a political career.
So who was she — and who would want to kill her?
Ellie has other issues. She’s not a homicide cop and technically can’t work on the case. A colleague is feeding information she uncovered to the homicide detective assigned to the case and taking credit for it. Most curious of all, her Aunt Cheryl has an unexpected interest in the case.
Politics and murder make uncomfortable partners, Ellie quickly finds.
Naomi Hirahara has a deft hand at incorporating L.A.’s complex character into her story. Her characters have depth and dimensions that aren’t always typical of mystery books. It’s great fun to guess which landmarks or which politicians have been given new names in this story.
The second book in the series, Grave on Grand Avenue, was published in 2015.
The Author: Naomi Hirahara
Naomi Hirahara is an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer. Her books focus on Japanese-American characters and their experiences in the Los Angeles area.
In addition to the Ellie Rush series, Hirahara has written the Mas Arai mystery series focuses on a California-born man whose family returned to its roots in Hiroshima, Japan, before World War II. He returned in the late-1940s to work as a gardener. The first book in the series, Summer of the Big Bachi, was published by Bantam/Delta in 2004. The third mystery in the series, Snakeskin Shamisen, won a 2007 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Paperback Original.
Both of Hirahara’s parents survived the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima. Her maternal grandfather was killed in the blast. Shortly after the end of World War II, Isamu (Sam) Hirahara, Naomi’s father, returned to his native California to start a gardening and landscaping business in Los Angeles. He returned to Hiroshima in 1960 to marry Naomi’s mother, May.
Hirahara holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Stanford University and studied at the Inter-University Center for Advanced Japanese Language Studies in Tokyo. She worked as a reporter and editor at The Rafu Shimpo newspaper. She was there during the end of the redress and reparations movement for Japanese Americans interned in camps during World War II. While an editor there, the newspaper published a highly acclaimed inter-ethnic relations series after the Los Angeles riots in 1992.
She left the newspaper to serve as a Milton Center Fellow in creative writing at Newman University in Wichita, KS. In 1997, she returned to Southern California and began writing, editing and publishing books on the Japanese American experience and contributions to Southern California. Under her own small press, Midori Books, she has created books on the downtown Los Angeles flower market and the history of judo in Southern California from 1930 to 1941.
Hirahara has also written short stories published in a number of anthologies, including Los Angeles Noir and an award-winning middle school book, 1001 Cranes. Her mystery series, “Heist in Crown City,” appears in Asahi Weekly in Japan twice a month. She teaches writing workshops and served as president of the Southern California chapter of the Mystery Writers of America in 2010.