It is so tempting to start this consideration of THE DARK STREETS, the latest Jack Liffey novel from John Shannon, by resorting to The Rant. The Rant, as most fans of Shannon's work know, is our howl at the injustices of an ignorant and uncaring universe where John Shannon's superb work slips into oblivion shortly after publication when it ought to be on national best-seller lists and the subject of breathless critical evaluations and appreciations of what the modern crime novel ought to be. Like I said, it's tempting...but instead I direct the curious or uninitiated to Keven Burton Smith's passionate but perceptive essay that opened his recent review of this new book for January Magazine: http://januarymagazine.com/crfiction/darkstreets.html . Take a quick jump on over to it. I'll wait here.
So. THE DARK STREETS, the ninth in the Jack Liffey series, masterfully displays all of the traits that make this series -- and Shannon's work overall -- such an enriching joy to read. There's the fully developed characters, the pitch-perfect dialogue, the intriguing plot structures, and some of the finest writing about contemporary Los Angeles to be found anywhere today. Take as an outstanding example of this last feature, this stunningly accurate description of L.A. as "this big melting pot where nobody melted any longer" that appears right on the first page:
--with the marginal day-labor Latinos fifteen to a house, professional white couples peering out from behind their armored gates, African Americans escaping in dribs and drabs out to Riverside and Palmdale on the periphery to cling to thr ragged edge of the dream. Not to menton the many thousands of angry grandchildren of the dust-bowl refugees, who'd earned their tract homes and then tacked on sweat-equity family rooms only to be laid off for good from aerospace and steel and auto.
Jack Liffey is one of those laid off from aerospace -- a former technical writer who has fallen into finding missing children. It's a vocation that takes him deep into the complex maze of family relationships, as well as into the lesser known, lesser celebrated ethnic communities that make up today's L.A.
In this story, it is a Korean father who hires Liffey to find his missing daughter. That daughter, Soon-Lim Kim, is a politically outspoken college student and filmmaker. Her latest project is a documentary comprised of interviews with eldery Korean women who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese during World War II (known as "comfort women"). As it happens, the assisted living home where many of these women live out their days is owned by the same corporation that forced these women into sexual slavery, and now wants to demolish their home. But as Liffey digs deeper into Soon-Lin's life and work, it becomes painfully obvious that all is not as it seems.
But Liffey has other problems, closer to home. His seventeen-year-old daugter, Maeve, is abourt to take a head-first dive into womanhood by way of a charismatic but dangerous gangbanger living next door to the woman police officer Jack is involved with. In the hands of a lesser author, such domestic episodes could easily become distractions to the main narrative. But Shannon's protrayal of Maeve's painful longing is so involving that her story carries as much weight and anticipation as Jack's search for Soon-Lin.
Everything builds to a stand-off confrontation in the concluding chapters that is perhaps the most gut-wrenching suspense found in the entire series. Yet, owning again to Shannon's skills, these same moments offer insight, commentary, and heartache, along with their action and inevitable violence.
THE DARK STREETS is a stunner, all right. And word from Shannon's website (www.jackliffey.com) is that his earlier works are slowly being reissued as trade paperbacks. So who knows?--There might be hope for the world yet! In the meantime, read this new work and join the ranks of us who fall into The Rant whenever the topic of excellent but underappreciated authors comes up.