Thursday, January 19, 2017

Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara

Murder on Bamboo Lane (An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery #1)  I love mysteries. The clues, the puzzles, the dark alleys, and shadowy informants - I can't get enough of it. It's fun, challenging, and strangely comforting. Most of the mysteries I've read feature a white person, usually male but not always, as the main detective. One of my ongoing reading goals is to read more diversely. Since mystery is one of my favorite genres I have been looking for mysteries where the main detective - be it police, private, or amateur detective - reflects something other than a white male perspective. I will continue to read and enjoy that perspective, I simply want to experience some others too. On a separate but related note, one of my goals is to read more books of any genre written by Asian and Asian-American authors. For whatever reason I have read relatively few books written by people of Asian descent and I would like to change that. So when I stumbled across Naomi Hirahara's Murder on Bamboo Lane at the Japanese-American National Museum gift shop in Los Angeles I thought this is kismet: a mystery written by an Asian-American women where the primary police detective is also an Asian-American woman. It was just what I have been hoping to find.

Eleanor "Ellie" Rush is a fresh-out-of-the-academy bicycle cop. She spends her days riding around downtown Los Angeles mostly handing out tickets to jaywalkers and listening to neighborhood residents complain about this and that. One day she happens to be nearby when a woman is gunned down - a woman Ellie went to college with. From there Ellie falls in and out of rabbit hole after rabbit hole trying to figure out who killed the woman while not upsetting her superiors too much. She is a bicycle cop after all, not a homicide detective, at least not yet.

Murder on Bamboo Lane was a solid mystery with enough twists to keep things interesting. The story is grounded not just in Los Angeles but in a part of Los Angeles many Angelnos rarely see, let alone non-Angelenos. (I don't recall one mention of a palm tree, the beach, or celebrities.) It features a diverse cast of characters. Ellie isn't the only person of color in a world of white. One of things I appreciated most was the insight into Asian-American cultural politics. For example, one of the main suspects in the murder investigation is a Vietnamese-American artist who courts controversy by making art that is pro-North Vietnam. A group of South Vietnamese people protest the artist's exhibition, with one character claiming that Ho Chi Minh is their Hitler. In another example Ellie notes how her ex-boyfriend, whom she dated for two years, never told his grandmother that his girlfriend (Ellie) was half-Japanese because he didn't want to "rock the boat." This is partly what I meant about getting a different perspective, a different story.

I did have a few minor/medium complaints. Ellie's knee jerk anger to any criticism of the police was annoying but then again perhaps that reflects the attitudes of actual police officers. Ellie's self-pity and inability to accept responsibility for her part in the deterioration of some of her relationships was equally annoying. Cortez, Aunt Cheryl, and other characters could have been fleshed out a bit more. Notwithstanding these issues, overall I enjoyed the story.

Murder on Bamboo Lane is the first in a series. I look forward to following Ellie's further adventures.

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