Finding Ellie Rush
By Naomi Hirahara
For the past five mystery novels, I’ve been in the head of a man significantly older than me (although as the years pass, that gap is closing in!). His name is Mas Arai, a gardener in Southern California, Hiroshima survivor, and, of course, a reluctant detective. Mas was modeled after my father and men like him – working class and seemingly ordinary on the outside, but with intricate secrets and strength within.
In April of this year, I’m embarking on a very different mystery protagonist, Ellie Rush. She’s, well, first female and considerably younger, 23 years of age. And the biggest challenge for me – she’s a bicycle cop with the LAPD assigned to downtown Los Angeles’s central core.
Don’t ask me the last time I’ve ridden a bicycle, but take my word for it, I can. And in terms of shooting a gun, I have. In 2011, the same year my beloved father was battling terminal stomach cancer, I participated in a Southern California-based ATF Citizens Academy once a week for two months. There we learned about the hidden perils of cigarette smuggling (usually this crime is linked to more dangerous international gang syndicates), the adventures of going undercover, and how to follow an arson trail.
Providing a brief break from sharing caregiving duties with my mother, these sessions let me escape into the shoes of someone completely different from me. We even donned earpieces and stuffed wireless radios in our jackets to do surveillance at a local mall, wore bulletproof jackets and aimed pellet guns inside an abandoned office which, for our pretend purposes, was supposed to be harboring suspects, and finally went to an outdoor gun range, where we shot firearms of various sizes.
The biggest eye-opener for me is how essential it is for law enforcement officers to work together as a team. But what about the lone rogue detective that we see so much on TV, the movies, and novels? In crashing a drug pad, often the Number Two ATF man or woman has to pull the collar of the person in front. “Hey, not so fast!”
As a lover of basketball, I could totally relate to team coordination. Everyone has a certain role and purpose. I had always viewed law enforcement as powered by adrenalin and emotion, but for it to work properly, quite the opposite is true.
During that same year, I also agreed to step in as an instructor of a UCLA undergraduate writing workshop. As I gazed at the beautiful, fresh faces of these 15 young people, I was transported to my college days, when despite a sluggish economy, we also remained optimistic about our futures.
Somehow these two experiences – the ATF Citizens Academy and the UCLA writing class – intertwined in my brain. The following year, my father passed away in a hospital bed in the room where he had watched his favorite samurai and Japanese soap opera programs on TV for decades. As I struggled with this great loss, I grappled with focusing on something new and young. Slowly this young woman, Ellie Rush, emerged – vibrant and enthusiastic, yet still wondering how she would make her mark on this world.
While the tone of the Office Ellie Rush mysteries are much lighter and breezier than my Mas Arai mysteries, there are still some common elements. I still want to take my readers on a tour of lesser known areas in my “homeland” of Los Angeles. And family and friends are important to both – although cranky Mas will not admit it publicly.
Ellie has her first mystery adventure in Chinatown, so the first book is titled MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE. Hope you might want to take a ride with her, and it won’t matter when you were last on a bicycle.
Murder on Bamboo Lane (Officer Ellie Rush - Book 1) by Naomi Hirahara
Publication Date: 04/01/2014
Publisher: Penguin Group
Imprint: Berkley Prime Crime
Genre: Cozy Mystery
(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)
Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Indiebound
Naomi Hirahara on the WEB: website, twitter, facebook, goodreads
Trouble awaits rookie LAPD Officer Ellie Rush as she patrols the mean streets of Los Angeles on her bicycle…
Bike cop Ellie Rush dreams of becoming a homicide detective, but it’s still a shock when the first dead body she encounters on the job is that of a former college classmate.
At the behest of her Aunt Cheryl, the highest-ranking Asian-American officer in the LAPD (a source of pride for Ellie’s grandmother, but annoyance to her mom), Ellie becomes tangled in the investigation of the coed’s murder—with equal parts help and hindrance from her nosy best friend, her over-involved ex-boyfriend, a smoldering detective, and seemingly everyone else in her extended family…only to uncover secrets that a killer may go to any lengths to ensure stay hidden.
Naomi Hirahara begins a new series with her book, Murder on Bamboo Lane. Set against the urban background of Los Angeles' Chinatown, this is a mystery that will appeal to many different kinds of readers. With a lot of ethnic diversity and a protagonist that happens be a bicycle cop with the LAPD, how could readers go wrong? Hirahara is an Edgar Award winning author who knows how to set the tone and make readers believe in her characters. Ellie Rush may be one of her best yet.
What I liked:
Murder on Bamboo Lane is the first book I have read by this author and I will have to say that I was really surprised at the depth the author went to with mystery. Her voice is fresh and original to the genre. Hirahara has a knack for writing about a setting and about characters that the reader finds easy to relate to. She was able to create her own distinctive niche with this novel. It is unlike any other cozy I have ever read and that's saying something. I've read a bunch of them!
Hirahara's setting was vibrant and colorful and let the reader in on the things that make Los Angeles and especially, Chinatown unique and different from other areas of the country. Hirahara weaves details about the city into the chapters of her story with ease, drawing the reader in and captivating them with her sense of community and place. The setting actual takes on the characteristics of a character, because it is so much a part of the fabric of the story. The author made me want to know more about LA and more about the rich diversity that is shown throughout this book.
Ellie Rush is a young protagonist at 23 years. I think a lot of cozy readers fall into a range that is a bit older than that. So this could provide a new audience for the genre that may not have discovered cozies yet. Ellie is tenacious and determined. I can't imagine being a bicycle cop. It just seems so improbable, though I know they exist. But this book actually made me reevaluate how I looked at the LAPD in general and especially this particular part of their force and how instrumental and important they are in the grand scheme of things. I admired Ellie's desire to become a homicide detective and thought that this case being so close to home for her, was a brilliant idea. Hirahara made me want to know more about this young woman, from her desires for her career to her love life and relationship with her family. She was a great lead character.
Hirahara also brings the readers a culturally diverse cast of characters from the lead character to the secondary characters. I liked seeing the dynamic of how Ellie interacted with both her co workers and her family. I liked the relationship that was brewing with the detective and her issues with her ex. It all added together to make a group of characters that were engaging and full of surprises.
What I didn't like:
For the most part I really liked this one. It was very unique and not what I was expecting at all. Hirahara made me take notice with this book and look forward to more installments in the series.
Naomi Hirahara is obviously no stranger to the cozy genre. She has a strong voice and her characters are reflective of her cultural heritage. Murder on Bamboo Lane is also a testament to her love of Los Angeles and Chinatown. A great first book in a series with lots of potential for more great characters and stories in the future.
Murder on Bamboo Lane is available April 1st from your favorite bookseller. Pre-order is available NOW.
I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!
About the Author:
Naomi Hirahara is the Edgar® Award-winning author of the Mas Arai Mysteries. Born and raised in Pasadena, Naomi received her bachelor’s degree in international relations from Stanford University and studied at the Inter-University Center for Advanced Japanese Language Studies in Tokyo. She worked as a reporter and editor of The Rafu Shimpo in downtown Los Angeles. She is also the author of 1001 Cranes and has written, edited, and published several nonfiction books, largely about the Japanese American experience. She lives with her husband in Southern California.
The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara.
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