Review: Follow Her Home by Steph Cha

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

Review: Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha

9780571348213Powerful and raw, harrowing and unsentimental, incredibly ambitious yet tightly focused in its scope, Your House Will Pay confronts the legacy of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when the city exploded into violence after four white police officers were acquitted of any wrongdoing in the beating of  Rodney King. Laced with tension and suspense, Steph Cha’s novel proves the past is prologue as it probes the residual pain, rage and grief felt by two families almost 30 years after a young black girl named Ava Matthews was shot to death by a Korean woman, who mistakenly believed the girl was stealing from her convenience store; an adaptation of the real-life murder of Latasha Harlins, a 15-year-old black girl fatally shot by convenience store owner Soon Ja Du, who was sentenced to five years of probation, 400 hours of community service, and a $500 fine.

Almost three decades have passed, but Shawn Matthews — an ex-convict now working for an LA-based moving company — is haunted by the death (or blatant execution, as he sees it) of his sister. The shooting and the subsequent trial, in which Jung-Ja Han was convicted, but received no jail time (and was able to relocate and disappear) exacerbated the racial tensions already simmering as a result of the Rodney King trial. These hostilities are festering in the present day, and have almost reached boiling point, after an unarmed black teen is killed by a police officer.

Shawn has dreamed of revenge for his sister, and has worked hard to deny this impulse, building a life that’s not exactly filled with riches, but is at least honest, and one he can be proud of. But when a Korean woman named Yvonne Park is wounded in a drive-by-shooting in front of her daughter, Grace, the LAPD comes knocking on Shawn’s door, and on his cousin Ray’s, who has just been released from prison, and is struggling to adapt to life on the outside. The LAPD are certain the drive-by was intended as a hit, not a random act of violence; setting the carefully-constructed lives of the Park and Matthews families are on a collision course.

This is the crime novel in its most serious form, reflecting and lamenting the mistakes of the past, and clanging a warning bell for the future. The past doesn’t fade; it lives, breathes, and gnaws in future generations.

ISBN: 9780571348213
Publisher: Faber
Imprint: Faber Fiction
Pub Date: January 2020
Page Extent: 320