Nina Revoyr is a writer I really enjoy reading, and I wish her works were better known. It can be tough to find books that feature queer characters that go beyond coming out stories. Coming out stories certainly have their place, but it’s also important to me to read books about queer people living their lives and getting into interesting situations and, you know, being the people they are. In Southland, Revoyr has created a mystery/historical hybrid novel which explores complicated race relations in LA through the years, from World War II to the 2000s.
Jackie Ishida decides to dig into her grandfather’s past when a mysterious will discovered after his death bequeaths the corner store he used to own to a man Jackie has never heard of before. The store was sold after the Watts riots in the 1960s, but Jackie still wants to find out why Frank would have left it to a virtual stranger. Through connections she makes at the funeral, she meets James Lanier, the cousin of the man named in the will. Lanier has some unanswered questions of his own about what happened during the riots and what his cousin’s connection was to Jackie’s grandfather, and he agrees to help her find out the truth.
One thing I love about this book is how it’s really about the relationships—there’s a lot of them, and they’re all rich and complex and realistic. The mystery is solid and kept me turning pages, but what I cared about most was the people. The most powerful reveals had to do with the connections between them, as opposed to the nitty-gritty details of the crime Jackie and Lanier uncover. Recommended for fans of historical fiction and mysteries with substance—these characters and what they went through will stick with you.