Follow Her Home

by Stephanie Cha

It’s hard not to have high hopes for a mystery novel whose protagonist is a Korean-American woman named Juniper Song, who has idolized Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective Philip Marlowe since she was 13 years old.

As the story opens on a mid-July night, she’s dressed to shine for the apartment-warming party of her best friend from Yale, Luke Cook.

Aptly, Luke lives in the Marlowe Apartments. Just two miles north is the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Ivar Avenue, where Marlowe himself had an office.

Among Luke’s guests is the doll-like Lori Lim, clothed in expensive designer brands. Like Song, she is Korean-American. She has a vague role at Luke’s father’s law firm, Stokel, Levinson and Cook.

Luke pulls Song aside and asks her to do some detective work for him: find out whether Lori is having an affair with his father. More than a decade earlier, Luke’s mother Erin Cook, had tried to kill herself because she suspected her husband was having an affair. Luke wants to prevent a repeat.

Song is excited to be a modern-day Marlowe with a case. Her first step is to follow Lori home from the party. Parked outside Lori’s house, she recognizes a car she just saw in Luke’s neighborhood. She goes to check it out. Within pages, Song has been sapped, comes to with her phone missing, a dead man in her trunk, a ransacked apartment and a threat not to call the police from a strange man who favors vintage clothes.

At this point, the parallels between Song and Marlowe fall apart for me. True, Luke and the Cook family have as many bank accounts and crazies as the Sternwoods in The Big Sleep, the novel in which Chandler introduced Philip Marlowe. More than 80 years separate The Big Sleep from Song’s contemporary world. Marlowe was a tall, experienced, gun-toting middle-aged man. Song is short, Asian, female and experienced only at turning the pages of a detective novel.

Effectively, she’s clueless. She doesn’t even report the dead body in her car — which later disappears — to the police. This worked for Marlowe in the mid-1930s when the Los Angeles Police Department was notoriously corrupt. It has tragic consequences for the lawyer friend Song consults about what might happen to her legally if she doesn’t go to the police.

The story that Cha is telling when the references to Chandler and Marlowe are removed is a story about Korean-American (or any Asian) young women raised by single, overly protective mothers, in a world that sees them only as beautiful, doll-like, submissive women. Perfect blank screens for projecting sexual fantasies on.

It’s an interesting and frightening story. It just doesn’t merge well with Philip Marlowe.

Cha keeps her story moving at an almost frenetic pace. But she’s chosen plot over characterization.  You won’t find much depth here, but you will find an entertaining summer read.

Follow Her Home is the first of a series. Its sequels are:

  • Beware, Beware (2014)
  • Dead Soon Enough (2015)


About the Author: Stephanie Cha (1986 – )

Born in Van Nuys, Cha grew up in Encino and attended Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City. She studied English and East Asian studies and graduated from Stanford University. She then went on to earn a law degree from Yale Law School.

Follow Her Home (2013) is Cha’s first published book and was followed by Beware Beware (2014) and Dead Soon Enough (2015). In addition, she has done freelance book reviews and food writing for the Los Angeles Times, humor pieces for Trop Magazine and a short story, “Treasures in Heaven” published in the Winter 2013 fiction issue of the Los Angeles Review of Books.


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