Review of Kill Her Twice, by Stacey Lee

Kill Her Twice

by Stacey Lee

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2024. 393 pages.
Review written May 29, 2024, from a library book.

Kill Her Twice is a murder mystery set in 1932 Los Angeles Chinatown as the powers that be are contemplating knocking down all the homes and businesses in Chinatown to make room for a Union station.

The perspective alternates between two main characters, sisters Gemma and May, who are keeping their family’s florist business open while their father is in an asylum being treated for tuberculosis. One morning Gemma and May find the body of May’s friend Lily Wong in a lot where they stopped to prepare their flowers for the market. Lily had been the first Chinese American movie star, and all of Chinatown was proud of her. In the past, she’d always been cast as the villain, but was now working on a film where she was the romantic star.

When the police arrest a kind but eccentric old man for the murder, the girls are sure they are just trying to pin it on someone Chinese to get the murder “solved” – and give one more excuse to level Chinatown. So the sisters take on the job of trying to solve the murder themselves.

Now, I thought the mystery unfolded rather slowly, and I was skeptical of some of the ideas Gemma had for unearthing clues, but I did enjoy the time with these young ladies. Their personalities are distinctly different, but both are likable, and reading even a slow-moving book was fun once I started enjoying their company.

I also enjoyed the look at 1930s Los Angeles. I spent a few years living in downtown Los Angeles in the 1980s, and didn’t recognize much. In fact, I thought I might have caught the author in a couple of errors, but looked them up and it turns out at that time, LA may have been exactly as she described it.

I also enjoyed how she pointed out that public perception of Chinese Americans could be translated into policy which would then affect thousands of lives. “Kill her twice” refers to Lily Wong’s first death followed by her reputation being destroyed in the press so that officials could justify tearing down Chinatown to make room for the railroads.

If you’re in the mood for a leisurely and atmospheric historical mystery, this book will fill the bill.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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