Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton grew up in The Jungle, a ghetto of high crime and high drug use, but she got out. Now she’s dismayed to find herself visiting again, this time as not just bad cop but worst cop–a homicide detective with the worst possible news a family could hear. The victim Chanita Lords, like Lou’s former self, was a black girl on her way out–a good student, interested in photography not gang-banging. And Lou is beginning to notice a pattern. Another black girl, this one a poet, was reported missing a couple of months earlier. And shortly after Chanita’s burial, a dancer disappears from the same apartment complex. These are girls with ambition, honors students, gifted in the arts. And all, like Lou herself, are missing fathers. Usually the men in their lives just abandoned them, but there are exceptions–one’s father died in Afghanistan.
Around this same time, Lou finds herself with two men in her life. There’s Sam, the assistant DA, a man with gorgeous green eyes and unlimited understanding and patience for the long hours her job requires. But suddenly there’s Zach, an attractive doctor she meets in the park when they find Chanita’s body, who keeps emailing and texting. Additionally, her long-estranged father, who left when she was 8, has decided he wants back into her life. Lou’s life has not been easy. “It was your job to teach me how to deal with the wolves!” she shouts at him the one time she decides to talk to him, after he visits several times and calls everyone she knows. She may have gotten out, but her sister didn’t–she was kidnapped and murdered at the age of 17, and Lou and her mother have only recently recovered her bones and found some closure.
And there’s the “monster,” as Lou dubs him, the man abducting and killing these girls. He leaves ciphers for Lou to unravel, and little figurines on her car. But these tantalizing clues arrive just too late to save the girls. It’s obvious that he has a fixation with ancient Greece, that he views these girls as his Muses, sending them on ahead into the afterlife. He leaves each girl grasping her second molar, the tooth you lose on the cusp of physical adulthood at the age of 12 or 13. But it’s becoming evident that he thinks Lou could fit the pattern.
Race is an issue in Los Angeles, and this novel doesn’t shy away from it. Lou and her partner are constantly being told they don’t care because the missing girls are black and poor. Tension between blacks and Latinos are evident. Lou’s closest friend is also a journalist, and the tension that creates between them is at times unmanageable.
Trail of Echoes is a great book. It’s got suspense and horror, but doesn’t overwhelm, although it can be heartbreaking. The characters were well fleshed-out and believable, and I didn’t figure out who “dunnit” early. This is the third book featuring Detective Lou, and I for one am happy to have a new series to love.