Rating: 4 out of 5.

Steph Cha’s “Your House Will Pay” [2020] was an incredibly ambitious crime novel that confronted the legacy of the 1992 Los Angeles riots as it probed the residual pain, rage and grief felt by two families almost 30 years after a young black girl was shot to death by a Korean woman, who mistakenly believed the girl was stealing from her convenience store.

“Follow Her Home” is Cha’s first novel. Its scope is vastly different. It is a more contained, personal story, that still manages to bring LA to life through the eyes of Juniper Song: a twenty-something, Raymond Chandler-obsessed, Korean-American, who finds herself entangled in the kind of knotted caper Philip Marlowe would’ve struggled to untangle.

It starts with a simple favour. 

Luke Cook, Juniper’s longtime friend since high school, is convinced his father is sleeping with a young Korean girl who works for his law firm. Luke wants Juniper to find out for sure. Which is a weird request, sure; but it gives her a chance to play out her Marlowe sleuthing fantasy. Even though last time she dug into a similar affair involving her young sister’s seduction by her teacher, it resulted in Iris’s suicide. 

The night ends with Juniper being clubbed unconscious, and awakening to find a corpse in the trunk of her car. From there, the case unsnarls into a dangerous web of unscrupulous characters, murder and betrayal; everything you’d expect from a private eye novel, but prismed through the perspective of an atypical gumshoe. 

I could’ve done without the overt Chandler worshipping, which reaches saturation point by the halfway mark. The opening homage, and a couple lines here and there, would’ve been enough for me to get the gist: Marlowe is Juniper’s inspiration; she found solace in Chandler’s novels during a tumultuous period in her life. I get it. But this unsubtlety aside, “Follow Her Home” is brilliantly compelling and deeply atmospheric — a wonderful blend of classic hardboiled tropes married to contemporary ideals. Next, please.  

ISBN: 9780571360444
Publisher: Faber
Imprint: Faber Fiction
Pub Date:February 2021
Page Extent:288

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