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It’s a terrible truth, but a truth nonetheless: people are often judged by the ignorant based on their race. If that fact was simmering beneath the surface of the first volume of Shima Shinya‘s mystery series Lost Lad London, it’s definitely bubbled to the top in the second, as Detective Ellis struggles to keep Al safe. While we don’t know definitively that Ellis himself has experienced racism in his work as a police detective (or in his daily life), he’s more than aware of the toll it can take. One of the most striking scenes in this volume is a flashback to when his partner Yuki Howard joins the force. Ellis welcomes her in his gruff way, asking if he’s pronouncing her first name correctly. While they’re talking, a white detective enters the room and tells Ellis to let someone else show “Miss Geisha” around. We don’t get a good sense of Yuki’s reaction, but Ellis quickly cuts the man off with a harsh, “What did you say?” When the man refuses to repeat it, Ellis notes that he clearly knew it wasn’t an okay thing to have said to a someone of Asian descent.

While the scene ends there, it functions as the clearest example we’ve seen thus far of the way systemic racism permeates the system within the story. Ellis is the unsung champion, calling out others for their racism and quietly acknowledging people’s heritage, such as when he notes that a snowy day is Yuki’s “weather” because he looked up the meaning of her name in Japanese. (Or a meaning of her name – he’s not perfect, but he’s trying.) That’s likely why he realizes what Grant is up to when he zeros in on Al as the prime suspect in the mayor’s murder: it’s something he sees and deals with every day, and something that he knows many of his white colleagues won’t own up to unless forced.

This brings us to the second most striking scene in the volume, when Grant and Yuki bring Al in for questioning. Why Ellis doesn’t fight to be there isn’t clear (although he may simply be trying to create distance between them so that no one catches on to what he’s doing for Al), but he does mention to Yuki to keep Grant in check – something Yuki absolutely understands. And it doesn’t take long for Grant to begin steering things towards accusing Al simply based on his appearance; when he describes the way that eyewitnesses describe the suspect (“black hair, Asian, 170-175 centimetres tall, male, between 20 and 30 years old”), Al notes that that’s a description that could fit any number of people in London. As Grant continues to try to trap him into a confession, Yuki quietly notes that Grant’s choice of who to question and suspect is, in fact, racially motivated – and from the look on his face, Grant does not appreciate her contribution.

Is that because he doesn’t want to admit his prejudice? Or does he truly believe that Al is the murderer? He certainly seems blind to one major possibility in the case: the fact that Al and the mayor were known to have frequented the same location might mean that, rather than Al shadowing the mayor, the mayor might have been shadowing Al. In Grant’s extremely narrow view, wealthy white politicians simply don’t do that sort of thing; and we have to wonder whether being aware of the mayor as Al’s likely biological father would change his mind at all. If anything, the situations in the story lead us to believe that they would simply strengthen Grant’s biases, because after all, why would a nice man like the mayor want to kill the son he possibly didn’t know he had?

Whether or not the mayor was aware of Al could prove to be a major piece of the puzzle. Even more of a potential issue is whether the mayor’s wife and son knew; there’s definitely a case to be made for the mayor’s son with his wife, Royce, to be the murderer trying to take care of a problem that he saw as a threat to his family. Ellis is playing his cards very close to his vest, so we don’t know how much he’s figured out, but he does go to speak with the mayor’s widow, which could mean that he’s following that particular possibility. There’s also the potential that Ellis is simply flying blind, seeing in Al another young man accused of a crime he likely didn’t commit, but who killed himself before the trial – a loss that has haunted Ellis ever since. Al is his chance to redeem himself, although that leaves us to question if that’s a motive that will help or hinder Al himself.

Lost Lad London is a twisty, dark mystery with artwork to match. There are surely red herrings here, possibly a whole school of them, and the way that the mystery combines with the exploration of systemic racism makes this a solid title. If you’re a mystery buff, you don’t want to miss this, and if you’re someone with the power to make live-action TV shows, please consider Lost Lad London for an adaptation.

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