Always on the lookout for left-leaning crime fiction, I’ve read a bunch since I last reported. I’ve got the seventh of John Shannon’s Jack Liffey, finder of lost children in California, books on order via slow boat or pony express, I’m not sure which, but it’s been a wait.
The first three episodes each had a widespread catastrophe of some sort, which led me to speculate about #4. California doesn’t get hurricanes as far as I know, so I guessed a tsunami. But I was wrong, and the second trilogy focused on SoCal ethnicities: in order, Vietnamese, blacks, and Iranians. There are painfully bleak glimpses into splinters of contemporary society and, here and there, rays of hope. And Jack’s lady friend dumps him for a fundamentalist who shares her interests. So I’m waiting for #7 and hoping that the reviewer who compared it to the tediously suspense-free Mystic River was wrong.
I also read “Ray Shannon’s” two books recently. The first, Man Eater, starts with a babe of a movie producer pretty much accidentally beating up a thug in a downscale bar, an incident that comes to involve a pizza-delivering ex-con who writes screenplays, drug dealers who don’t want to pay for their pizza, Brad Pitt’s movie role choices, a hitman, Hollywood, a shark of a coworker, and a lot of money. It’s a fast, gritty, funny story, plus a case study of how to weave many disparate characters and plot lines without any loose ends.
The wannabe screenwriter, a good solid man with an albatross of a past around his neck, would have been the best continuing character, in my opinion, for the second book, Firecracker, but it’s got a whole new cast of characters: a broke and successful pro football player, his mom-accountant, a PR flack who shared a fling with him, a Superbowl betting slip that might be worth a million, the star’s posse, Las Vegas, a worried sports agent, and the PI he hires, disguised as a ghostwriter for the star’s autobiography. Much of the pleasure in these books is being sure such a complex plot and set of characters will collapse into a tangled mess and then being wrong, as every aspect connects and unfolds. The hardboiled guilty pleasures of very funny gruesome mishaps are not for everybody, but then I don’t care for musical comedies either.
I’m hoping that Aenas, Firecracker’s detective, will have his own series, but the book’s been out two years with no sign of a sequel. And there’s also no sign of a sequel for Gar Anthony Haywood’s (real name of “Ray Shannon”) long out-of-print Aaron Gunner series, wondrous hardboiled PI books with big hearts. Get them while there are still battered used copies available.
Yes, I’ve been reading crime fiction by authors not named Shannon, but more about them later.