Zen’s debut noir mystery follows a 1950s LAPD detective as he investigates a wartime murder and confronts the compromises people make to feel safe, both personally and nationally.
In 1942, the FBI takes in a Japanese-American family for questioning after the attack on Pearl Harbor—only these FBI agents aren’t what they seem. In 1950, a Hollywood seamstress commits suicide after being accused of harboring Communist sympathies. Though these two cases are different, both reflect security-minded hysteria and belong to Detective Dalton Pope. With his checkered past, Dalton isn’t about to forget the underdog. When the collapse of Horizon Drive reveals the bodies of a Japanese-American family, Dalton begins investigating, which brings him into contact with a classic and well-drawn cast of LA noir characters—a shady newspaperman, a crooked judge, a tough police captain, a rich therapist to the stars, FBI agents with their own agenda, drinkers, gamblers, losers—and with his lost love, a Japanese-American woman who spent the war years in an internment camp. There’s also a lot of crime in this entertaining noir mystery—blackmail, rape, insurance fraud, etc.—but not too much violence graphically depicted on the page. Dalton comes from a long line of noir detectives, willing to bend the rules to uncover the truth or protect the innocent. The 1950s plot is occasionally interrupted by flashbacks, some that deepen the characters of Dalton and his love interest—her memory of the internment camps is especially forceful—though occasionally these perspectives distract, as when Pope thinks he had “walked through fire and been reborn.” But Zen’s mystery engagingly examines paranoia couched as patriotism, as when one FBI agent says pointedly, “Americans say they are willing to lose some liberties to stop terrorists.”
Compelling noir entertainment with a sharp edge of modern relevance.