by Ivy Pochoda
Set in West Adams, a rapidly changing part of South Los Angeles, THESE WOMEN (2020) features very different women connected by one man and his deadly obsession.
Dorian Parkhurst is still grieving her daughter’s, Lecia’s, unsolved murder. She keeps the fish shack she once owned with her late husband open, more to feed the vulnerable women who walk Western Avenue in the night than income.
She wants to protect these women from the fate of her daughter. But lately, she’s been finding the bodies of dead birds at her house and at the fish shack.
Julianna Vargas is young, beautiful and hip. As an exotic dancer, she calls herself Jujubee. Jujubee lives hard and fast, resisting anyone who tries to slow her down.
Lecia used to be Julianna’s babysitter. “Julianna loved to tag along when her babysitter went to the corner market, listening to the men catcall from their cars, and the locals whistle from their porches.” Lecia inspired her.
But it was Kathy who taught Jujubee what a young woman — a beautiful, sexy young woman — could do with her assets. They started hanging out together when Jujubee was 14, after Lecia’s murder. Not that they followed the same path. Jujubee is a dancer. Kathy was a street walker.
Jujubee believes “danger is what happens to other people. Danger comes when you acknowledge it.”
Ameke, who lives next door to Julianna’s family with her husband and daughter Marella, watches Jujubee climb “into a fast car driven by an older man, adjusting her crop top and yanking down her mini skirt.” She tells Marella, “The world destroys girls like that.”
Feelia Jefferies knows what that’s like. She has a ring of scar tissue around her neck from an encounter in 1999 with a man who left her for dead. It was enough to scare Feelia out of working the streets. Now she’s convinced she’s being stalked by a white woman.
The police laugh at the idea. They turn her over to Detective Essie Perry. Essie’s colleagues dismiss her as unreliable and untrustworthy after she was involved in a car accident that killed two young girls. She’s given the cranks, like Feelia or Dorian.
Then there are a series of murders — just like Lecia’s killing and several before that. After Lecia, who wasn’t a street walker like the others, was killed, the murders stopped for years.
Essie is puzzle worker. She looks for patterns. She lives in the neighborhood, and she takes what the so-called “cranks” tell her seriously.
Author Ivy Pochoda has created layers of mystery and crime here. She has a large cast of characters, but every one is an original you want to follow. Setting this story in the West Adams District is a stroke of genius: in its early days, the neighborhood was highly desired by downtown businessmen and academics at the University of Southern California. As the city expanded westward, it became home to celebrities of color, shut out of other neighborhoods by segregation. Then in the 1960s, it was vivisected by the construction of the I-10 freeway.
Pochoda’s evocation of West Adams almost makes the neighborhood a character in the book with its aging Craftsman homes, its subdivided mansions and liquor stores.
Essie, a dyed blonde Hispanic cop, is a woman of integrity, courage and perseverance. While she suffers the same marginalization as “these women,” her ability to listen, find patterns and ask questions help bring down a seemingly invisible serial killer.
About the Author: Ivy Pochoda (1977 – )
Ivy Pochoda is a novelist and former professional squash player.
She grew up in Brooklyn and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in classical Greek and English and American literature. She earned a master of fine arts degree in fiction from Bennington College. She was the 2009 James Merrill House Writer in Residence.
Her first novel, THE ART OF DISAPPEARING (2009), was about a magician who can do magic in his real life and makes one of his assistants disappear. It was followed by VISITATION STREET (2013), about a teenage girl who disappears from a working class Brooklyn neighborhood undergoing gentrification, and WONDER VALLEY (2017), about a teenage boy who runs away from his father’s mysterious commune.
Since 2009, she has lived in Los Angeles with her husband, filmmaker and screenwriter Justin Nowell.