Another police procedural that I dug? Have I descended into an alternative universe? Rachel Howzell Hall’s 2014 “Land of Shadows” is a police procedural but there’s Howzell’s voice that makes it different than anything I’ve read. Told mainly through first-person, the protagonist Elouise “Lou” Norton, a thirty-something detective who grew up and works in the Jungle in South Los Angeles, is part of what makes “Land of Shadows” succeed.
I picked up Howzell Hall’s “Land of Shadows” for two reasons. First, Jim Thompson recommended it highly in one of his Shoulder Wounds columns and regardless of what some people think blog reviews do matter. The second was that as an old white guy, it is quite easy for me to be set in my ways, read what I find comfortable, you know other white guys. Once again, regardless of what some may think, reading outside one’s sphere to get a different perspective is important and sometimes even fun. And Howzell Hall’s “Land of Shadows” was an entertaining read.
As far as police procedurals go, “Land of Shadows” has its fair share of tropes: for instance, there’s the missing or dead relative trope. But there’s something different this time around. Norton’s sister has been missing since the 80s, presumed dead, and Norton knows her sister’s case inside and out. Heck, Norton’s missing sister may even be the reason she became a cop. Unlike the typical missing child trope, missing children are actually a bigger problem in the African American community than the white community. As Roxanne Jones writes in a CNN essay, “about 35% of missing children are black, and another 20% are Latino”. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how a trope is not a trope.
What makes Howzell Hall’s “Land of Shadows” work is the voice of Norton, a smart young black woman filled with her own doubts and skilled in her chosen field. Today the police procedural is a cookie-cutter genre which is probably that’s why so many enjoy it and why I have such a problem with it. What I need and what I think all readers deserve is a hook or viewpoint that twists the genre around, makes it something new. The first book in Rachel Howzell Hall’s “Land of Shadows” does this and grabbed me such that I plan on reading the rest of the Detective Elouise Norton series.