n 2014, in a sleazy part of South Central LA, sex workers are being murdered, and pint-sized Latina cop Essie Perry believes that the deaths are the work of an unknown serial killer who murdered 13 women in 1999 ... The perpetrator’s identity isn’t much of a revelation, but that isn’t the point: this is an immersive and immensely powerful novel, challenging and angry, about what happens when women’s voices go unheard.
Loosely inspired by a lesser-known LA murderer — known as the Grim Sleeper — it describes the lives of the sex workers who make up the majority of his victims. Written with a vivid intensity about making a living on the streets or in the bars that offer ‘other services’ to their male clients, it is uncomfortable reading, but deeply moving.
Jumping between 1999 and 2014, Pochoda evokes the lives of a victim, a mother who lost her daughter to the killer, a female cop and a young woman trying to escape the dark alleyways of LA. Each is portrayed with wrenching emotional empathy, drawing the reader into their uncomfortable worlds and creating a web of fear, grief and loss that is absolutely heartbreaking.
These Women is intense, brutal and glittering, a call to listen to the voices of the ignored: “The mothers. The mothers are chanting. The mothers are heckling the police. The mothers are calling for justice. The mothers are holding photos of their daughters.”
Pochoda’s novel is roiling with female voices – angry, grieving, usually swearing. And while there’s a vividness to the prose, it can border on trite (there are one too many descriptions of women dolled up in their “armour”). Still, when the denouement comes it’s truly menacing, and Pochoda’s descriptions of a muddy, neon-soaked LA where it’s always night are as gritty and aggressive as Raymond Chandler’s. The difference being that Pochoda’s women, surveying the vastness of the city, know that “it’s ours, baby”.
In an atmosphere of rising menace, she shows the impact of the unsolved murders on grieving mothers and a new generation of young women who live on the margins. It’s a tough read, written in the language of the streets, but These Women is a stunning achievement that challenges conventional narratives about serial killers.