Wednesday, March 4, 2020


YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha (Faber, 2020)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson


In 1991 Shawn, a young African-American teen, his sister Ava, and cousin Ray, set out across LA to a screening of New Jack City. But in the volatile atmosphere of that time, they never make it inside the cinema.

Nearly three decades later, police brutality still afflicts the city, but Grace, a Korean-American twenty-something pharmacist living and working with her parents, has her own problems, as she tries to figure out why her older sister, Miriam, still refuses to speak with their mother.

Across the county, Shawn is trying to ease Ray, fresh out of prison, back into everyday life, but both men are struggling, still haunted by the events of 1991 and their shared loss. When a shocking new crime strikes the city, the lives of Grace and Shawn - two people from different cultures and generations - collide in a way which could change them forever.

Almost thirty years after LAPD officers were videoed beating a black man with batons, the name Rodney King still resonates around the world. Injustice compounded by the later acquittal of the cops, sparking deadly riots that tore across Los Angeles.

Lesser remembered globally but significant for those involved: the killing of Latasha Harlins, an unarmed black teenager, by a Korean shopkeeper two weeks after King’s beating.

Los Angeles author Steph Cha shifts away from her series heroine Juniper Song – a Korean American amateur sleuth turned private eye – in this stunning standalone novel inspired by the Latasha Harlins case. YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY is a tremendous example of crime fiction being an ideal vehicle for exploring social and political issues.

Grace Park and Shawn Matthews are opposites in many ways; she’s a sheltered young Korean American pharmacist still living with her parents, he’s a middle-aged African American who’s walked away from gang life. But both are dealing with fractured families, and both are linked by past tragedy. The City of Angels is a powder keg in the wake of police shooting a black teenager, then another shooting brings the past crashing into the present, and Grace and Shawn’s families back into the media glare.

Put simply, Cha’s novel is brilliant, a best book of the year contender.

Beautiful writing meets nuanced characterisation in a thoroughly absorbing read. Cha takes readers deep into divergent communities and the nexus between personal and political. This is ambitious, brave, and powerful storytelling.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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