Year 3 / Book 34: Sins As Scarlet

34) Sins As Scarlet by Nicolas Obregon

I much enjoyed Obregon’s debut Blue Light Yokahama and at the end of that review, I said “keep an eye out for Obregon’s next novel”. And here we are with Sins As Scarlet, which brings the same lead protagonist-detective, Kosuke Iwata, but is set in Los Angeles rather than Japan. We join Iwata having moved away from Japan at the end of the last story, leaving behind both the adulation of having solved that crime and also the pain of the end of his tragic marriage. He is working as a private investigator, largely tracking unfaithful husbands, when that tragic past draws him into a new mystery: his wife’s brother has been murdered.

From there, we are on a rollercoaster ride through the seamier sides of LA, through the transgender community, through the sex trade and more; and soon on to Mexico, illegal immigration and human trafficking. Obregon also incorporates two other flashback elements, one focusing on Iwata’s mother’s background (answering the question about why he was left in an orphanage) and one on his marriage breakdown; for me, these added depth and emotional heft to the novel and, most notably, to the character of Iwata who is fleshed out more satisfyingly than in the first novel.

The plot propels the reader along, from a shocking opening to a trail of clues in the clubs in LA to a traumatic escape across the border. It’s genuinely exciting stuff, and the pace ratcheted up notably in the second half of the book, to the degree that I finished it past 1am in the morning in a rush to the end. As I mentioned above, the story is also centred round topical themes: transgender identity and crime, and illegal immigration over the US-Mexico border to name but two. So this feels current and relevant, rather than ‘just another police procedural set in LA’, and the quirks of the main character have survived the trip across the Pacific.

Overall, I think this is a step on from the first book, even if I loved its Japanese setting and backdrop. This feels tighter, stronger, more emotionally ambitious and still aspiring to be more than just another crime thriller. For those reasons, I’ll end this review like I did the last one, but with heightened anticipation: I’m very much looking forward to reading Obregon’s next.

Score: 8/10

BUY IT NOW: Sins As Scarlet(Inspector Iwata)

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