Homicide detective Elouise “Lou” Norton is enjoying a lunch date at Johnny’s Pastrami with hunky Assistant DA Sam Seward when she gets a phone call. Her partner, Colin Taggert, calls her to a murder scene, where a body has been discovered lying in a wooded park outside of Los Angeles. The victim is a young teenage girl, which seems to fit with a recent pattern of crime in the LA area, except that the other girls in question are still missing and presumed kidnapped. This one is definitely dead.
The gruesome murder provides a fast-paced kickoff for Trail of Echoes, author Rachel Howzell Hall’s tense exploration of murder in a down-and-out LA neighborhood, and her third thriller after Land of Shadows and Skies of Ash. Hall pens an in-depth, believable portrait of the series’ black, female detective Norton, and it’s filled with realistic and whip-smart dialogue matched with tight, visceral descriptions of local scenes.
Norton and Taggert set off to inform the young victim’s mother of the tragedy, and the address turns out to be the same apartment building where Lou grew up. Like the homicide detective herself, the 13-year-old victim, Chanita, seemed to have been on a path that held the promise of escape from the gray, distressed area of housing projects where she lived. Norton finds the family apartment filled with Chanita’s expressive photographs, along with awards and citations honoring her young talent. This matches a framework common among the recent disappearances—they’re adolescents with talent and promise, all missing from the same LA neighborhood and school district, all close in age and race.
The detective and her team cast a wide net, uncovering several persons of interest: a neighborhood tough named Ontrel who claimed to be her protector; a Mexican dude named Raul Moriaga, who lives downstairs; her photography teacher and mentor, Payton Bishop; and even a selection of her mom’s old boyfriends. Important clues to identifying the murderer’s identity include the strange photograph of a flowering plant found in the victim’s bedroom and a series of creepy coded messages left anonymously for Detective Norton, including an odd statue or two posed on the hood of her car.
Full of toe-tapping, fidgety energy that’s tamped down and ready to brim over at any moment, Trail of Echoes offers an addictive read from a promising new author.