These Women Is a Gritty Murder Mystery with a Feminist Twist
As unnerving as the buzz of a neon light, Ivy Pochoda's fourth novel, These Women, pulses with a heart-in-your-throat mystery. In 1999, a young woman was found murdered in a seedy section of Los Angeles, discarded in a vacant lot with a plastic bag tied around her head; 15 years later, a female sex worker turns up dead in similar fashion. It's not a coincidence, and soon the community of Jefferson Park must come to grips with the threat of a serial killer in their midst.
On its surface, the setup is familiar, but Pochoda's ingeniously structured white-knuckler is concerned with upending assumptions; these pages dare us to interrogate what we believe, especially when it comes to who does or doesn't deserve our sympathy. The story unfolds as a series of interlocking novellas told from different points of view, allowing the reader to spend quality time with each character as the narrative surges onward and the body count rises. There's Dorian, the still-grieving mother of the very first victim, who runs a renowned fried-fish eatery; Julianna, a dancer at a strip joint and an aspiring photographer; Essie, the vice detective working the case; Marella, an edgy digital artist; and Marella's mother, Anneke, a closed-off housewife whose mantra is "Preserve order and order will be reflected in you." Discovering the hopes and hang-ups of each brash, brazen woman is as thrilling as learning how they're connected and whether they will survive.
There is a villain, too, yes, but a more insidious culprit is the culture of disbelief around violence against women—the idea that some of them ask for it. A cop in Essie's precinct, for example, suggests the killer is a "dissatisfied" customer; the victims are women whose way of life "make[s] their deaths irrelevant." Pochoda's page-turner sees to it that this isn't the case.
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