Set largely in the present day, it alternates between the viewpoints of two characters: second-generation Korean immigrant Grace, who finds her morals and filial feelings in conflict when she discovers that her mother committed a heinous crime three decades ago; and ex-con Shawn, brother of a girl whose life was cut short long ago, who struggles to reconcile the bratty sister he remembers with the angelic prodigy she has become in the accounts of anti-racism campaigners and flame-fanning journalists.
Grace, compelled to seek vicarious absolution on her mother's behalf, tries to befriend Shawn, and when someone exacts belated redress for his sister's murder, it turns into a whodunnit. The plotting is immaculate, but it is as a sensitive study of a killer, a victim and their families that the novel grips.
Jumping around from 1991 to the present, the book takes a lot on, but Cha, who’s interested not just in race but ideas about family and trust, is a talented storyteller, feeding us information gradually as the suspense builds towards uncomfortable revelations and events.
Cha provides a masterclass in elegant plotting, dropping new revelations into the narrative with explosive precision. It’s her profound and apparently instinctive understanding of human nature, though, that elevates this book way beyond a mere ripped-from-the-headlines potboiler. She gets, for example, the corrosive ways in which male pride can sometimes lure otherwise rational men into making terrible decisions; she gets the way in which people, even deeply moral people, can sometimes bend and flex their moral codes in order to excuse the actions of their nearest and dearest; and she gets, above all, the intricate and intimate relationships that can develop between those seeking absolution for past crimes and those in a position to grant it.
In terms of backdrop and theme, there are echoes of Sunil Ghasi’s debut from a few years back, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, but Cha’s novel is an original story that seeks to tell two very different sides of a well-documented conflict. Your House Will Pay is an urgent portrait of a time not so long ago where civil blood made civil hands unclean.