By Ivy Pochoda; reviewed by Jeannette Hartman
Set in West Adams, a historic neighborhood in transition south of the I-10, THESE WOMEN (2020) features a group of women unknowingly connected by one man and his deadly obsession.
Dorian Parkhurst’s daughter Lecia was murdered; a crime still unsolved. Beautiful, young and hip Julianna Vargas is an exotic dancer who calls herself Jujubee. Kathy is a streetwalker. Feelia Jefferies lives with a ring of scar tissue around her neck from a 1999 encounter with a man who slashed her and left her for dead. It was enough to scare her out of working the streets.
Ameke, who lives next door to Jujubee’s family, watches her climb “into a fast car driven by an older man, adjusting her crop top and yanking down her mini skirt. She (Ameke) tells her own daughter Marella, ‘The world destroys girls like that.'”
Now, Feelia, a black woman, believes she’s being stalked by a white woman. The police laugh at the idea. They turn her over to Detective Essie Perry. Dorian finds dead birds at the fish shack she owns and at her house. She also is sent to talk to Det. Perry. Kathy is murdered on the street she walked for business.
The dismissiveness that the police feel for these women is clear not only from their lack of attention to the murders, but also in their lack of respect for Essie Perry. They have considered her unreliable and untrustworthy after she was involved in a car accident that left two young girls dead. They send her the cranks, the time-wasters, like Feelia and Dorian.
Essie, a dyed blonde Hispanic cop, is a puzzle worker. She looks for patterns. She lives in the neighborhood and takes what the “cranks” tell her seriously. She’s the one who sees a pattern when a series of seemingly random murders occur.
Author Ivy Pochoda’s evocation of West Adams makes the neighborhood, with its aging Craftsman cottages, its security gates, subdivided mansions and corner liquor stores, a character in the book.
Essie is a fascinating character with a mystery in her past. She’s also a woman of integrity, courage and perseverance. This book has several surprises as it comes to an end, not the least of which is that not all the crooks are on the streets.