November 18, 2005
Replacing the Irreplaceable

We crime fiction readers on this blog have an immense problem. Jerry Doolittle has told us not to expect any more Tom Bethany books in the near future, and we are jonesing.

So I’ve taken on the responsibility of finding us a substitute while we wait. It has to be crime fiction with a hero, it has to be “liberal,” and it has to be good.

My first thought was John Shannon’s Jack Liffey series, in which a laid-off California tech writer, having lost his own daughter when his wife decamps and he can’t keep up with his child support, re-creates himself as a finder of lost children. In the first three books I read a couple of years ago, The Concrete River, The Cracked Earth, and The Poison Sky, he lives in a shabby condo sometimes shielded by the friendly neighborhood gang, and he drives a beater that couldn’t possibly pass inspection. Everything he sees around him shrieks of corporate corruption, government malfeasance, and the sad state of the human condition.

So for research (a good excuse for somebody who already has more books than some library branches) I bought the next in the series, The Orange Curtain. In it, Jack Liffey ventures beyond Los Angeles to Orange County and encounters acculturated and unacculturated Vietnamese, the effects of a Rom palmist, vested interests in what becomes of El Toro Marine Base, and sorrow.

Yes, it fits the criteria I set up, but no, it isn’t an adequate replacement, in my mind mainly because of active-versus-passive and togetherness-versus-mess factors. Tom Bethany is so controlled that nearly nobody knows his identity, and he moves sure-footedly toward any problem, whereas Jack Liffey shambles into trouble and gets beat up a lot, and his clients don’t fare all that well. I want the possibility of a champion galloping to the rescue, and Jack Liffey wears that mantle uneasily, too much like I would.

So next I’m going to look at Dennis Lynds’s Dan Fortune. Any other suggestions?

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Posted by Joyful Alternative at November 18, 2005 09:24 PM
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An old one:
Travis McGee, the beach bum 'who takes his retirement in phases'. But everyone knows HIM, don't they? If not, look him up in the great blue yonder.
By John D. MacDonald

A new one:
Vincent Calvino. "Next life I will make a perfect Buddhist. But in this life I am paying off the karma of a last life. I am an ex-lawyer from New York City. No one gets himself born in New York City without having made some major mistake in the last life. Whatever that mistake was it was bad enough to cause me to abandon New York City for Bangkok. Flipped from the wok straight into the fire. For the past dozen years, I've been solving crimes in Southeast Asia, keeping and trying not to get burnt."
By Christopher G. Moore

A blue one:
Dave Robichaux, ex-cop from New Orleans, living on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain (?), ever fighting John Barleycorn.
By James Lee Burke

A borrowed one:
Nathan Active, Inupiaq born cop from Chukchi, Alaska, who grew up with foster parents in Anchorage. Living in-between cultures, never able to decide. "The ghosts of dead bears have, it is said, their own village far off on the ice of the ocean."
By Stan Jones

Looking forward to every next one (and farewell to thee, John D.),

Peter

Posted by: Peter on November 19, 2005 9:51 AM

Sorry you don't like life messy and ambiguous. That's pretty much the way it is, at least as I see it.
Yours, John Shannon (for Jack)

Posted by: John Shannon on November 19, 2005 1:11 PM

Jack Liffey is my very favorite liberal hero! You need to keep reading the newer ones ie. DANGEROUS GAMES. I think his clients fare pretty well & Jack becomes more & more loveable. Shannon deals with the various ethnic groups & political problems - especially in S. CA - better than anyone else I can think of, & he writes so beautifully!

Posted by: on November 19, 2005 1:44 PM

Don't give up entirely on Tom Bethany, Joyful. I've been thinking about maybe propping him up and sending him out into the world again.

Just back from Washington where I heard a lot about a book called "Where the Truth Lies," by Rupert Holmes. Jim Fallows, Rick Hertzberg and Chris Matthews (I was at the Carter table during a get-together of former Presidential speechwriters) all said it was great. So maybe it is.

Posted by: Jerry Doolittle on November 20, 2005 9:41 PM

I understand this Rupert Holmes is the exact same person as the "Pina Colada song" Rupert Holmes. Wonders never cease.

If you like heavy doses of horror/occult with your hard-boiled 'tec stuff, you could give Repairman Jack a try. A guy who decided to drop out of official society, trying to fix peoples problems of almost any sort (except for appliance repair) while remaining in a totally underground lifestyle. The first in the series is The Tomb. F. Paul Wilson

Posted by: Ray on November 21, 2005 11:21 AM

I can't at the moment think of any so I'm rooting for a return of Tom Bethany!

Posted by: Lenora on November 21, 2005 7:22 PM

Peter, I'm not fond of old John MacD. That whole "poor wounded bird" bit (over and over and over again) is manipulative and a bit perverted, if not out-and-out illegal and against the Ten Commandments. Sort of like a divorce lawyer-client affair.

Robichaux is too woo-woo for me, and the Nathan Active I read seemed stilted. I couldn't force myself to believe the people or the plot.

The Calvino books I haven't heard of before. I'll pick one up soon, when I get Jack Liffey #5.

Posted by: Joyful on November 24, 2005 9:40 AM

But I do like Jack Liffey! I thought he was lovable in his very first book, and I agree that life is messy and ambiguous, as my always-unexpected autobiographical details could prove if I weren't too polite to bore people. I will be reading more, even if the rest of the books don't have a FEMA-type grand finale.

But sometimes the newspapers so discourage me that I feel a need for the Lone Ranger to come galloping in and set things right. So I'm glad to be able to look forward to Silver and Tonto and the Masked Man riding into town once again.

Posted by: Joyful on November 24, 2005 10:59 AM

As a literal person who as a small child preferred Perry Mason to fairy tales, my opinion of "horror" is that it's silly, and the same goes for the "occult" and any other sort of woo-woo. (Yes, fortunately my faith tradition doesn't require belief in transubstantiation, etc.)

However, the Repairman Jack scenario described is very appealing (with echoes of Tom Bethany!). I guess I'll have to read a bunch of book reviews to see if the woo-woo is too much for a prosaic reader.

Posted by: Joyful on November 24, 2005 11:18 AM
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