The life and times of a rookie LAPD beat cop

Murder on Bamboo Lane

Murder on Bamboo Lane

MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE

By Naomi Hirahara (New York.: Penguin Press, 2014, 304 pp., $7.99, paperback)

The streets of downtown are traversed by beat cop Ellie Rush, who travels by bicycle and serves as the main interface for the Los Angeles Police Department in the Central Division. In “Murder on Bamboo Lane,” author Naomi Hirahara introduces feature character Ellie Rush whose mixed race identity is often invisible. With her anglo-surname and light skin, Rush narrates, “I ‘pass,’ but in my line of work, ‘passing’ can actually be a liability.” We learn quickly the many layers of identity that she shields and the many relationships that must be navigated as a rookie female police officer.

First, there’s her co-workers who are jockeying for their foothold in the unit and try to keep her a rung below. Most of them do not yet know that her aunt is Assistant Police Chief Cheryl Toma, which Ellie finds both helpful and a hindrance. Then there are her college friends who are not sure how to act when they see her in an LAPD uniform

On her route, Officer Rush is handed a flyer of a missing Asian female, Jenny Nguyen, who Ellie recognizes as a co-ed from Pan Pacific West College, and the fine lines between her work and personal life quickly blur. Ellie does manage to stay grounded when she is assigned to work the case, despite the distractions of the good-looking detective, an overly concerned ex-boyfriend, hovering Aunt Cheryl and zealous best friend.  

A tightly-woven narrative with strong characters and complex relationships builds quickly in “Murder on Bamboo Lane” with the sharp writing cadence of Naomi Hirahara. As Ellie finds her leads and runs into detours, her confidence and emotions teeter, and all the more, the reader is drawn in and pulling for her.  

While the layers of Ellie are closely held, her best friend Nay Pram, is easy to get to know. She can’t help but speak her mind and often blurts out with playful jabs to lighten the tension. When Ellie needs encouragement, she prods, “You’re giving up? I’ve never seen you give up on anything.”  

Hirahara deftly surrounds Ellie Rush, with the far from perfect, but very familiar Japanese American family. She describes a moment when life seemed to come back together. 

“On New Year’s Day, I was at my parent’s house, and Grandma Toma was overseeing the Oshogatsu meal. I was in charge of assembling the gelatinous gray strips of root cake — make a cut in the middle with a knife and then thread one side into the hole … and I’m not quite sure what Noah was doing, but he was there, too. Even Lita was over, learning how to make sweet Japanese black beans. The kitchen was crowded, and we were all laughing.”

The prolific Naomi Hirahara has definitely found a new twist for readers in sleuth Ellie Rush to enter the streets of LA and the diverse ethnic mix, to grow alongside the budding rookie, and to be grounded by her Japanese American family. Hirahara is the Edgar Award-winning author of the Mas Arai Mysteries. “Murder On Bamboo Lane” is the first book of the Ellie Rush Mystery Series. 

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