These Toxic Things

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By Rachel Howzell Hall

One of the reasons Rachel Howzell Hall’s mysteries are such a pleasure to read is the fact there’s often more than one mystery at play.

In this book, a serial killer is leaving dead women around Los Angeles County with the letters “DD” carved into their backs.

Then there’s the death of Michaela Lambert’s client, Nadia Denham. Was it suicide as it appeared? Or murder — and by whom?

And who is stalking Michaela and leaving threatening notes and texts? Who is driving the rundown Buick that follows her or comes around her neighborhood?

Michaela, 24, works as a “digital archeologist” for the Memory Bank. She helps clients select objects, photographs and documents to include in digital scrapbooks about their lives. Once everything is scanned, photographed, captioned and narrated, it is uploaded into a voice-controlled box with an eight-inch screen and speakers. The Memory Bank is capable of producing holograms that can be turned, enlarged or shrunk.

Nadia is the owner of Beautiful Things, a curio store located in Santa Barbara Plaza, one block west of Crenshaw Boulevard, and across the street from the Baldwin Hills Mall. Signs proclaim that the Santa Barbara will soon be under renovation by a developer. A month earlier, Nadia was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which is why she has purchased a Memory Bank.

In the back room of her shop, Nadia has collected 12 items that mean the most to her. Each is set on a piece of paper with bulleted notes. After an initial meeting, Nadia asks Michaela to come back at 5 p.m. that evening. But by the time she returns police cars and paramedics are at Nadia’s store. She’s dead, an apparent suicide.

Pushed by her boss to keep working on Nadia’s paid-for Memory Bank, Michaela quickly learns that Nadia’s special items come from all over the country. Most involved random encounters with people associated with each item.  The notes tell where the item was acquired, from whom and under what circumstances.  Without Nadia to help, Michaela does some online research to try to expand information about the items.

She discovers that many of these people are dead, their bodies abandoned and their killer or killers unknown.

There’s plenty of suspense here and rich detail to keep you trying to guess the answers. This book is well-written, true to its setting and entertaining to the last page.


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