by Cynthia Chow
& Naomi Hirahara
Up this week a review of Murder On Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara. She also shares with us a fun guest post about how she includes her background in her books. Details on how to win a copy of the book at the end of this post.
Murder on Bamboo Lane: An Officer Ellie Rush Mystery By Naomi Hirahara
Review by Cynthia Chow
“Ellie my dear, you’re among friends. Let’s be honest. You can’t help. You’re just a bicycle cop.”
Barely off of probation and still a rookie with the Los Angeles Police Department, Ellie Rush is struggling to establish herself as a patrolling bicycle cop taking complaints, writing up tickets, and hearing more complaints. It’s not a glamorous job, but Ellie has the ambition and intelligence to accept menial duties if it means advancing her career. That her aunt is the highest ranking Asian-American within the LAPD is a secret few know, as while Assistant Chief Cheryl Toma is a wizard at political maneuvering she has her own detractors and list of enemies.
During an assignment Porta-Potty patrolling during the Chinese New Year parade, Ellie is one of the first officers on the scene to identify the body of one of her former college classmates, a young woman reported missing by her friends who are otherwise reluctant to speak to the police. As Ellie is pulled into the investigation her loyalties will be tested, as while she had the drive to finish college in three years, her friends at Pan Pacific West are still fifth year seniors who live at home and see her as becoming part of the Establishment. Ellie’s Korean boyfriend from Brazil ended their on-and-off relationship due to her joining the police department, and her own brother is something of a pothead.
Half-white and half-Japanese, Ellie also faces the challenge of never being seen as either race. The community she patrols doesn’t consider her to be Asian, while her own mother is disappointed that Ellie majored in Spanish and untraditionally followed in her aunt’s footsteps. All is not bleak, though, as though Ellie faces the considerable antipathy of a fellow patrol officer stalled in his career, she has the good fortune to meet the noticeably hot Detective Cortez Williams. Cortez welcomes her input into his investigation, but as she pushes the boundaries to conduct her own investigation Ellie finds that the color that segregates her the most, is not “White” or “Yellow,” but the Blue that makes her a police officer.
What is so refreshing and enjoyable about this debut series is that it introduces a twenty-three year-old police officer at the start of her career, before she becomes jaded and before she has the experience of a veteran investigator. Ellie has enthusiasm, but she makes mistakes and she is constantly torn over how to be a good friend as well as a good officer. Even the dilemma of how to handle truants forces Ellie to choose between the common practice of ignoring what is considered to be an obsolete rule or to enforce the law and its premise that it keeps youths from dropping out and becoming lost.
Readers are as well immersed in the ethnically diverse and yet merging neighborhoods of downtown Los Angeles, including the Fabric District, Flower Street, Chinatown, Koreatown, Thai Town, and Little Tokyo. Hirahara, the Edgar Award-Winning author of the Mas Arai Mystery series, highlights the history and beauty of Los Angeles, and her heroine shines with a similarly optimistic spirit. Ellie may be a biracial, Asian-American female, but some of her greatest challenges are those faced by every young adult as she forges an identity separate from her family, chooses her friends, and assumes responsibility over her career.
Stitching the Personal
By Naomi Hirahara
I can’t quilt or sew that well – heck, sometimes just threading that needle to fix a loose button is a huge task – but I’ve recently discovered that I’m constantly stitching the personal into my fiction writing.
Yes, it’s quite egotistical to think that anyone would be interested in different parts of my past and present, but honestly, I don’t know how else to write. My latest novel, Murder On Bamboo Lane, the first in the new series, is about a young, female bicycle cop with the LAPD. I haven’t been on a bicycle in a few years and my knowledge about law enforcement is rudimentary at best, but in terms of the emotional terrain, I’m treading on ground that is pretty familiar to me.
My protagonist, Ellie Rush, is a rookie in a field fraught with uncertainty. Her role model, her aunt, is the highest ranking Asian American in the LAPD, but everybody else in her life are scratching their heads on why she would want to be part of law enforcement. Ellie gets insecure sometimes, even emotional, yet there’s also another side to herself that is committed to this calling. She makes mistakes – some that could allow the guilty go free – but she recovers.
I can definitely relate to this period of time in Ellie’s life. I had graduated from college in a degree in international relations. Did I want to pursue a career a law and make certain people in my life happy? Or was there something else tugging at my heart?
Writing was always my passion since elementary school, but I doubted that I could make a living at it. After spending a year in Tokyo with an advanced Japanese language program, I decided to take a leap. I pushed aside the law school applications and sought work with magazines and newspapers in my hometown of Los Angeles. My pay was negligible and sometimes I had to pick up side jobs to make the rent. But it became clear that I was doing what I loved and I’ve never looked back.
I’ve written five novels in my Mas Arai mystery series, which features a gardener and Hiroshima survivor in Southern California. That character was inspired by my late father and also other men of his generation. And now I’m working to complete the second book in the Ellie Rush series. In all these books of fiction, I’ve sewn in names of people I’ve loved and cared for. Many of these folks are invisible people, people behind the scenes who’ve worked hard and been helpful to others without any thought of reward. If you take all these random scraps, you can somehow piece together the rough story of my life. But the magic of fiction scrambles these parts, and some secrets remain hidden, sometimes even to me.
The foremost goal of a mystery writer is to create a story to entertain. It’s not all about complicated plot twists or explosive scenes, however. The reader needs to feel connected to the characters, the lead protagonist. For that to happen, we need to dig into ourselves, clearly reach out for those foibles and weaknesses, and be confident enough to bring them out in the glare of daylight.
To enter to win a copy of Murder on Bamboo Lane, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Bamboo,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 19, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.