A Chill in the Air

Even with hot, humid Los Angeles as its setting, Rachel Howzell‘s latest thriller No One Knows You’re Here gave me the chills.  And I mean that in the best of ways.  No One Knows You’re Here is a spine-tingling novel of the highest order, demanding not only that I pay attention to the fear wrought by a tight and fast-moving plot (tension setting me on the edge of my seat and making me punch urgently at the page button on my Kindle), but also that I pay homage to the women at the heart of this compelling book, the nameless and the powerless victims who die without anyone caring all that much about their deaths — or their lives.

Not all the women in No One Knows You’re Here are victims.  Syeeda, the reporter at the heart of the novel, is a modern-day heroine, complicated and smart, driven to work hard but yet willing to party with her friends, make peace with her family, and offer tentative commitment to her on-again/off-again boyfriend. Syeeda has uncovered the links between the back-alley murders of south Los Angeles prostitutes, identifying the habits and m.o. of a serial killer.  As a successful writer, Syeeda calls attention to the victims, and make the police and the public take notice.

What drives Syeeda is not only her commitment to the under-served but also the fact that she was brought up not far from the killing zone, protected fiercely by her parents throughout childhood.  She may be living in a safe neighborhood now, with a nice house and car, but Syeeda knows how lines can blur and lives can change on a dime — and she won’t let it happen to herself, or to anyone else within her ambit of help.  When old friends resurface, Syeeda welcomes them back but little does she know how deeply into trouble she is casting herself, and how closely she is coming to her own encounter with the serial murderer.

Based on the Grim Sleeper killings that occurred in Los Angeles in the 1980s, a case of serial killings that no one even knew about until the story was broken by reporter Christine Pelisek of the L.A. Weekly, No One Knows You’re Here shines the light on crimes that go unnoticed (committed against the underclass) and heroes that go unsung (journalists and writers), providing not only a great book but a sharp jab in the shoulder: Are you paying attention yet? After reading this book, you most certainly will be.

Howzell is the Sue Grafton of her generation, with a bit more social conscience and street cred.  Like Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone, Syeeda is determined to be her own woman, solving crimes and facing down danger, and protecting her own body — and heart — as ferociously as she hunts down bad guys. I hope to see more, much more of Syeeda (Ms. Howzell, you hear me?) and I look forward to reading another novel starring the scrappy, savvy, and stalwart Syeeda.