Surviving Cancer Freed Rachel Howzell Hall to Write First Mystery Novel

Hall sits in a sunny bay window to write. "My first drafts are always in long hand, on legal pads," she explains. "I love putting pen to paper." / Andre Ellis
Hall sits in a sunny bay window to write. “My first drafts are always in long hand, on legal pads,” she explains. “I love putting pen to paper.” / Andre Ellis

Rachel Howzell Hall is easing her big, laurel green Mercedes sedan through the streets of Los Angeles. A slim woman with big eyes, Hall says this Benz is her dream car, the thing she’d planned to buy for herself once she’d become a successful writer, probably around age 50.

But something happened to speed up her schedule.

“When I was 33 years old,” Hall says, “I was diagnosed with a rare type of breast cancer. And I was pregnant. And it was terrifying.”

She was two months pregnant with her much-desired first child. And she and her husband, David, were stunned. With Hall’s doctors, they worked together to beat the disease.

“I made it through, I survived,” says Hall. “And I realized that life is not guaranteed, and that I don’t want to wait until 50 to get a car that I want; because I may not make it to age 50. You never know, ” she shrugs. “And so now, I’m driving the car I always wanted.”

Surviving cancer also freed Hall to write her first mystery. Before that, she had wanted to write a detective novel but was afraid to because she wasn’t a cop. What if she got something wrong? Facing her mortality changed everything.

“Having faced that, that’s the biggest fear anyone could have,” she says. “It’s like, ‘OK, you’re writing a book? That’s not scary. I can do that.’ And that’s when I started Land of Shadows.”

The book was published last month in the U.S., and earlier this year in the U.K. Its heroine is Elouise “Lou” Norton, a scary-smart and fiercely ambitious homicide detective — and the only woman and African-American on her Los Angeles police homicide detail.

The book opens when Lou is called to a new condominium complex in South LA to investigate a teen Jane Doe who was found hanging in a closet. Lou suspects the real estate mogul building the complex is involved, and may also have ties to the unsolved disappearance of Lou’s own sister two decades earlier. Whether she can detach herself from her personal past to effectively investigate the current murder drives the plot.

Click here to read more.

Karen Grigsby Bates

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