Steph Cha's 'Follow Her Home' is more than just a Chandler homage

| Saturday, June 29, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

An engrossing novel can be more than entertainment — it can double as an escape and a refuge from harsh realities. Steph Cha's intriguing debut “Follow Her Home” works as a testament to the power of storytelling and a cautionary tale against forsaking reality for fiction.

As a teenager, Korean-American Juniper Song found that safe retreat in Raymond Chandler's novels, immersing herself in Philip Marlowe's adventures to escape her overprotective mother. But, too often, she allowed herself to believe she could be the sleuth like Marlowe. While that led to a family tragedy from which she has never recovered, her desire to be a detective has never dampened.

So, she jumps at the chance to play private eye when her best friend and former Yale classmate Lucas Cook asks her to find out whether his father is having an affair. Lucas suspects that his father, a prominent L.A. attorney, is seeing Lori Lin, who also is Korean-American. Lucas is worried that his emotionally fragile mother would be pushed to suicide if the affair became public.

After following Lori to her home, Song is knocked unconscious and wakes to find her car trunk contains a body, which then disappears. As Song begins to prove that she can be an insightful detective in her own right, the case becomes personal. Song begins to believe that Lori is a victim, not a predator, a situation that echoes Song's own life.

Cha elevates “Follow Her Home” with glimpses at the culture of Korean-American families. But these scenes are too brief and only make the reader want more.

Although at times a bit uneven, “Follow Her Home” works as an homage to Chandler as the plot explores a young woman learning to trust her own instincts.

Oline H. Cogdill is a staff writer for the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale).

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