For her first novel, “Summer of the Big Bachi,” Naomi Hirahara has chosen as her hero another iconographic albeit little-known figure in the Los Angeles landscape — the Japanese American gardener. [The hero] traverses the breadth of Japanese American Los Angeles, treating readers to snippets of the Japanese language in addition to well-drawn scenes in Crenshaw District homes still occupied by elderly Japanese, San Fernando Valley ramen shops, hostess bars on Sawtelle Boulevard that cater to Japanese businessmen, Gardena bowling alleys and illegal card games in Little Tokyo.
It’s not so much the book itself that struck me, but Paula’s observations about how some writers are using the mystery as a tool to examine LA from fresh perspectives.
The best Los Angeles crime fiction is distinguished by its ability to transport readers to unfamiliar corners in our multicultural metropolis. The house-proud black neighborhoods sleuthed by Walter Mosley’s midcentury detective Easy Rawlins, the gay and lesbian enclaves of Katherine V. Forrest’s Kate Delafield police procedurals, the Persian American elite and other diverse groups investigated by John Shannon’s P.I. Jack Liffey all leave readers more knowledgeable than they started about people seen only from a distance and lives imagined only in the broadest of outlines.
I’ve read Mosley, of course, but I’ll have to check those other authors out… as soon as I break out of my mystery reading funk.