Review: Nicolas Obregon’s ‘Sins As Scarlet’ spotlights L.A.
“Sins As Scarlet” (Minotaur), by Nicolas Obregon
Each author brings a different hue to the city or region he or she is writing about. Nicolas Obregon’s stunning second novel shows Los Angeles from the perspective of Kosuke Iwata, a former Japanese police detective who is now a private investigator in California.
Born in Japan, where he was abandoned by his mother as a child, Iwata spent much of his youth growing up in California after his mother reclaimed him about a decade later. He spent years as a detective with the Tokyo Police Department before returning to L.A., where he has opened his one-person private detective agency. His back story infuses everything he does, influenced daily by straddling two countries and cultures “from two places and no places all at once.”
This duality rears again in “Sins As Scarlet” when Iwata’s former mother-in-law, Charlotte Nichol, asks him to investigate the murder of her transgendered daughter, Meredith. Charlotte has never forgiven Iwata for marrying her daughter, Cleo, and taking her to Japan where she died, nor was she all that accepting when her son, Julian, transitioned to Meredith. But Meredith was still her child, and the police have done little to find the killer.
Iwata soon uncovers at least five unsolved murders of transgendered women, many of whom worked as prostitutes and were drug addicts. There also may be other victims because some bodies were “misgendered.” But an even more chilling_and cruel_pattern emerges as his investigation takes him from L.A.’s skid row to Mexico’s Sonoran Desert.
Obregon keeps the unpredictable plot of “Sins As Scarlet” churning with myriad surprises that are grounded in believability. The author has that same approach to describing L.A., exploring its sights, sounds and smells, its “February summers” and “June gloom.” Iwata reflects that L.A. is “a city of new starts, of mixture, of diverse blood” but also “of despair, a city that never tired of rejecting those within it, a city of unclaimed dead.”
The author also avoids the obvious with Iwata, who soon emerges as the epitome of the anti-hero. On the surface he seems compassionate, even caring, but Iwata long ago lost his ability to feel. His barren apartment is a metaphor for his empty emotions. Even when he was married and the father of an infant daughter, Iwata was not a good person, given to fits of anger and rage. Iwata’s evolution adds to Obregon’s ingenuity in “Sins As Scarlet.”