A mulligan stew of family saga, whodunit, and social history as a woman’s attempt to understand her grandfather’s will leads to the reopening of a murder case from the Watts riots.
Law student Jackie Ishida spots something funny when her grandfather Frank Sakai’s will leaves his Los Angeles grocery store to one Curtis Martindale. The shop was closed and sold long before Frank died, so technically the bequest was null, but Frank’s widow Mary asks Jackie to find out who Curtis was and why Frank wanted him provided for. So Jackie goes down to Frank’s old neighborhood, near Watts, and asks around. There, James Lanier, director of a youth group, tells her that Curtis was his cousin and used to work in Frank’s shop. But a greater and more disturbing mystery arises when James tells Jackie that Curtis and three other neighborhood boys were found frozen to death in Frank’s meat locker during the 1965 riots. No one suspected Frank (who was obviously fond of Curtis and the other boys) and the case was never solved—but everyone believed the murderer was a brutal white cop named Nick Lawson. When Jackie and James reopen the investigation, they find a trail of circumstance pointing to Lawson: He hated blacks and often beat up Curtis and other boys; he was seen in Frank’s shop on the night of the murders; and he was shot and nearly killed in a mysterious attack a day later. But the obstacles involved in prosecuting a 35-year-old case are immense, not the least being the “blue wall of silence.” Oddly enough, the most uncooperative cop is Robert Thomas, a black officer who was also seen in Frank’s shop on the night of the killings. Are some secrets best left buried?
A gripping second novel (after The Necessary Hunger, 1997) with some neat plot twists—but complicated by a byzantine narrative that shifts in time, trying to pack in too much.