created by john shannon

Reviews - A Little Too Much


It starts out as a simple missing-persons case—find a marquee-caliber but notoriously troublesome African American actor who has disappeared in the middle of a shoot—but soon enough L.A. private investigator Jack Liffey is doing what he always does, trying desperately to help set the world right: “He wished he were three of four different people so he could watch over everything that needed watching over.” Maybe five or six would be good this time, as the watching over includes not only the actor, who is suffering from schizophrenia while trying to find his father, a former ‘60s radical turned drug dealer who is also in desperate need of help.

Also in jeopardy are Jack’s daughter, now a UCLA student; his live-in lover, Gloria, who is undergoing a midlife crisis that has landed her in the bed of a detective friend of Jack’s; and a good-hearted Jamaican who has fallen into the employ of a drug kingpin. Shannon has an overstuffed plot on his hands here, but he manages it splendidly, keeping all the balls in the air while focusing our sympathy on the overmatched Jack, out of his league but determined to plow ahead: I’m not much of a detective, but I keep coming. That’s my virtue.

It is, in fact, the virtue of this entire series, which tells the ongoing, ever-bittersweet story of a man, too smart for abstract idealism, who can't help but try to fix the next seemingly unfixable problem in front of him.
— Bill Ott

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, February 14, 2011

In Shannon's violent, anarchic 13th Jack Liffey mystery (after 2010's On the Nickel), the Los Angeles child finder has plenty to worry about. Jack's troubleprone teenage daughter, Maeve, has left home for UCLA and an off-campus apartment, while he fears he's losing his live-in girlfriend, L.A. cop Gloria Ramirez, to investigator Sonny Theroux, a former friend of his, in Bakersfield. Meanwhile, when black movie star Tyrone Bird, a schizophrenic, goes off his meds, off the set, and on a search for his father, the studio hires Liffey to find Ty. The arrival of Colombian drug-runner John Orteguaza ups the ante. Shannon's frequent point-of-view shifts can be disruptive, but he makes great use of the sordid history of the real-life Sandstone Retreat, the infamous home to free sex back in the '70s, as well as movie lore. The main characters--Liffey, Ramirez, and Maeve--continue to grow in depth and complexity

KIRKUS REVIEWS, March 1, 2011

This time out, Jack Liffey (On the Nickel, 2010, etc.), finder of lost children, searches for a lost father. Though African-American movie star Tyrone Bird is positioned comfortably among the box-office elite, not much else in his life is comfortable. For some time he's been in emotional disarray, heading quietly for psychological meltdown. A marker along the way is his special brand of hallucination: the Skinnies, a team of attenuated tormenters functioning like an ill-disposed entourage. Buttressed by meds, he's been able to hold things together well enough to keep his pictures consistently earning A-list money. Now, however, Bird is on the wing somewhere, his disappearance triggered by a secret desire that's become a full-blown obsession. Ty needs to find his father, and as a consequence Jack needs to find them both for the sake of an important movie left half-finished. The gig isn't Jack's usual kind--no actual kids are involved--but cash-flow problems have a way of fostering flexibility. Unfortunately, traces of Ty prove scant. Nor is Jack at his professional best. At 63, and with unexpected bitterness, he's experiencing something he thought he'd safely consigned to history: woman troubles. In the 13th of this widely respected series, Shannon wavers between realistic family drama and unabashed melodrama. It's an uncertainty readers will sense and share. 



This being the 13th title in John Shannon’s superb Jack Liffey mystery series might lead the uninitiated to assume the author has carved out a lengthy portion of the “Mystery” section of most book retailers, where you can easily find all his titles lined up like obedient solders.

Sadly, as his devoted readers know, this is not the case. Between shifting publishers and several titles going out of print without so much as a paperback edition, tracking down Shannon’s work can be challenging. But the rewards have always proved more than worth the effort.

A LITTLE TOO MUCH is no exception. In fact, it’s one of the best of the series, as well as a thoroughly stunning novel in its own right.

Jack Liffey is usually hired to find missing children, so when he got the call from the frantic movie producer hiring him to find Ty Bird, a popular African-American actor who walked off the set of his latest film, Liffey sense something was out of whack. Only later did he discover how true this intuition was.
Bird, it turns out, is a schizophrenic currently off his medication and, therefore, frequently battling tiny hallucinatory creatures he calls the Skinnies. Bored and dissatisfied with his movie work, he sets off on a mission to find the father he never knew. What little details Bird tracked down tell him that he was conceived at the Sandstone Retreat, a once-notorious Southern California free-sex clinic during the ’60s and ’70s, and that his father was a one-time college professor/black radical named Marcus Stone.
These days, however, Stone makes his living dealing drugs, and is in the midst of brokering a huge cocaine deal with a group of Colombians. But when the deal goes sour, he and his local gang associates run for their lives as the Colombians take out their violent revenge through ritualistic killing and then war — not just metaphorically, but with a shocking arsenal of automatic weapons and grenade launchers — in Los Angeles.
Prior to all this, Stone sensed that someone was tracking him down, so he hired Winston Pennycooke, a Jamaican Rastafarian hit man who goes by the street name “Ratchet,” to hunt down and dispose of the unknown stalker. 
Dropping himself into all of this is more than enough trouble, but Liffey’s life at home lately has been anything but peaceful. Maeve, his daughter, has moved out to begin life as a student at UCLA and almost instantly attracts the attention of a handsome young man, as well as that of the local SWAT team when she and her new friend are at the center of a random campus shooting.

Meanwhile, Gloria, Liffey’s long-time live-in girlfriend and an LAPD cop, leaves home under the pretense of attending a mandatory training seminar held north of L.A. She uses the opportunity to surrender to her temptation to begin an affair with a Bakersfield policeman she met a few months ago, and Liffey is fully aware of this.
Without question, this latest is the most complicated mix of events Shannon has ever undertaken. Yet, with all of its cutaways, shifting points of view and escalating action, the author never loses sight of the connective threads and constantly keeps the pace moving forward while eventually bringing all of the characters and events into a literally explosive conclusion. And all at just under 250 pages!
In his previous novel, ON THE NICKEL, Shannon miraculously made Liffey an active presence while confined to a wheelchair without use of his voice. In this work, Shannon makes Liffey the overriding presence (both good and bad) in all of the various characters’ thoughts and actions.

Directly involved or not, Liffey is the motivating force in the character’s lives and eventually the same force that pulls the entire novel together. While often competent and unwaveringly fixed to his moral compass, he is by no means infallible. In keeping with the neo-noir ambience of the entire series, Liffey is firmly reminded at the novel’s end that, “Things go wrong. You can’t fix everything all by yourself.”
A LITTLE TOO MUCH revisits events and characters from a few earlier Liffey novels — most notably the prejudices and paranoia played out in THE DEVILS OF BAKERSFIELD — but includes enough important information to keep new readers from getting lost.
With a dozen titles behind him, you’d expect a series author to avoid risks and instead fall into comfortable, anticipated patterns to where the writing seems almost automatic. But that’s never been Shannon’s method, and one of the many reasons why these novels are so exceptional, and why his readers willingly do whatever it takes to keep Jack Liffey on their shelves.

Seek out your local independent bookseller, or if needs be, that special-order desk at your nearby chain retailer, and join up. —Alan Cranis




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