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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.

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I had to squirm (and occasionally skim) my way through this book because I’m squeamish when it comes to violence, but the Black Dahlia murder and Piu Eatwell’s deep dive into the evidence are fascinating enough to make the ick factor worth it. I didn’t know anything about the case going in, but even if you have some background, Eatwell fought for access to evidence never before released—and she has a compelling argument as to the identity of the culprit. She’s also an accomplished historian who excels at creating a sense of place. Black Dahlia, Red Rose is as much a snapshot of postwar LA as it is an analysis of the murder investigation, and even though I’ve never been to California, having read this book I now feel like I have.

True crime can be tough to read. With crime novels, no matter how sick and twisted, you can at least comfort yourself with the thought that it’s all a figment of the author’s imagination. We’re granted no such distance here. Elizabeth Short was a real person whose life was ended purposefully and brutally. So what makes the book worth reading, despite the gruesomeness of the crime itself? In my opinion, it’s the opportunity to explore who the so-called Black Dahlia really was, behind the sensational headlines and prejudice of the times. It’s too easy to cast a beautiful young female murder victim as either a saintly virgin or a disgraced harlot. Based on the picture Eatwell paints of Short, I personally think she (like all women) was more complicated than that false dichotomy allows.

Adding to the intrigue is Eatwell’s exposure of the bald-faced corruption of the LAPD and their unwillingness to bring the killer to justice. As a cock-eyed optimist, I found the department’s failure appalling, but if you’re the jaded type you probably won’t be too surprised. I guess we’ve seen several examples in the news just recently that prove rules don’t apply to white men in powerful positions. I should have known.

Recommended for true crime enthusiasts, history buffs, and anyone who likes non-fiction that reads like fiction.