Publisher's Weekly 3/23/09
Palos Verdes Blue: A Jack Liffey Mystery John Shannon. Pegasus (Norton, dist.), $25 (336p) ISBN 978-1-60598-037-9
Shannon explores the deep, sometimes deadly divide that separates haves and have-nots in his rewarding 11th mystery to feature 60-year-old Jack Liffey, who specializes in locating missing children (after 2008’s The Devils of Bakersfield). Jack’s ex-wife, Kathy, asks him to find Blaine “Blue” Hostetler, her best friend’s missing teenage daughter. Smart and attractive, Blue was involved in such causes as preserving the habitat of the endangered butterfly, the Palos Verdes Blue, and aiding illegal immigrants. Jack’s investigation takes him from L.A.’s ultra-rich enclaves and the surfers’ paradise of Lunada Bay to muddy migrant camps and Tijuana. Once again, Jack’s daughter, Maeve, puts herself in danger to help her dad, with mixed results. Effectively told in part through letters written by a young Mexican immigrant and others written by a scared teenage surfer to his dad, this installment highlights Shannon’s ability to sharply render subtle shades of right and wrong.
[STAR] Booklist, May 1, 2009, Keir Graf
The mysteries at the heart of the Jack Liffey novels are ultimately less interesting than Liffey himself and the landscape he navigates—and that’s fine. A gentle soul with an angry spirit, Liffey, the finder of lost hildren, finds himself exploring the physical and psychic terrain of Southern California, crossing the weird frontiers between rich and poor, between native born and recently immigrated. Back from a sojourn in Bakersfield, Liffey is asked by his ex-wife to look for Blaine, the daughter of a friend. Blaine is an idealistic high-schooler whose passion for saving the habitat of an endangered butterfly, the Palos Verdes Blue, may have brought her into contact with Mexican laborers who are sleeping rough amid the multimillion-dollar mansions where they work—and with the rich surfer kids who harass the Mexicans. Overhearing the details, Liffey’s own teenage daughter, Maeve, decides once again to help him, even if he doesn’t know she is on the case (recalling City of Strangers, 2003). Readers may puzzle over Liffey’s lasting relationship with angry cop Gloria Ramirez, but he is loyal to lost causes, even his own. With a hero as brainy, compassionate, and conflicted as this, the only real mystery is why these books aren’t bestsellers.
New York Times, May 24,2009, Marilyn Stasio
Jack Liffey, the private investigator in John Shannon’s mysteries, works the roughest territory in the genre the subculture of the Southern California teenager. “I’m not really a detective,” the big-hearted P.I. explains in PALOS VERDES BLUE (Pegasus, $25). “My practice is limited to looking for missing children.” That doesn’t begin to describe the harrowing rescue job he undertakes when he begins searching for a schoolgirl with a passionate commitment to protecting butterflies and other endangered species, including the illegal Mexican workers camping out on the cliffs above Lunada Bay. Unaware that his own impetuous teenage daughter is endangering herself by trying to help him, Liffey patiently excavates the area’s social strata, uncovering layers of antagonism among the privileged rich and their anonymous day laborers, rival surfer gangs and a racist militia group prowling the hills hostility that bounces right back at parents from their alienated children.
The Thrilling Detective , May 6, 2009, Kevin Burton Smith
The private eye, at his best, is and always has been a man (or woman) of his times and his world. And you can’t get much more man-of-his-times than John Shannon’s Jack Liffey, who makes his 11th appearance in the just released Palo Verdes Blue.
Me, personally, I think this is one of the finest, most sustained and boldest detective series to ever be set in Los Angeles -- an extended valentine to a battered, tattered City of Angels and its citizens that never fails to entertain and to challenge. But imaginative plots, rock-solid writing, living breathing characters and an unwavering intelligence and compassion evidently aren't enough for mystery readers these days.
What more do they want?
Tits? Beheadings? Torture?
Maybe John isn't quite the man of his times I thought, because if there's one recurring theme in the reviews of his last few books, it's the nagging mysteryn that keeps turning up. As a recent Booklist review (starred, of course) so succinctly put it, “With a hero as brainy, compassionate, and conflicted as this, the only real mystery is why these books aren’t bestsellers.
Even I'm getting a little cranky waving the flag here. My guess is that, in an increasingly polarized cultural and political landscape where opposing political, cultural and social philosophies are too often endlessly smacked together for simple entertainment value under the guise of “news,” and the “analysis” offered is really just a dumbed down demolition derby, Jack scares people.
i mean, this is a culture where a large segment of its citizens, if they even care about the news at all, turn on the boob tube to hear the president referred to as "Hitler" by camera-sucking "patriots;" where a beloved commentator publicly hopes the entire country's economy will crash and burn to prove some dubious political point, where namecalling and bullying have replaced rational debate. So, a series that dares to ask people to think for themselves, to not jump to conclusions, to look at multiple sides of an issue instead of jumping on the bandwagon du jour -- yeah, I guess I could see how that might unsettle people. I guess, for some people, Jack is scary.
Which is a laugh. Jack’s probably one of the most soft-spoken and least threatening private eyes around. Not that he’s a wimp, or that he doesn’t display rather amazing resilience at times, but this Los Angeles-based finder of lost children has never met a one-sided argument in his life.
For some readers – particularly those more accustomed to having their opinions (and their crime fiction) pre-digested and spoon-fed to them, that can be heady stuff. And possibly a little bewildering.
So maybe it’s simply commercial frustration, but this time Shannon pulls out all the stops. Everything that is wonderful about this series is cranked up a notch – there are even more memorable characters, even more So Cal weirdness, even more of LA’s endless sub-cultures to explore, even more ideas fleshed out and stamped with a human face. As a favor to his ex-wife Kathy, Jack reluctantly agrees to look for her best friend’s precocious, idealistic teenage daughter.
But what at first seems like just another wandering daughter job soon has the detective bumping up against the spoiled, territorial surfer brats of the swanky Palos Verdes enclave, not to mention cranked-up white supremacists, burnt-out cops, the obscenely rich and the murky world of illegal immigrants who serve them -- including a young Mexican day laborer who just wants to hang ten. Meanwhile, Jack’s own precocious, idealistic teenage daughter, Maeve, hits another speed bump on her ongoing journey to define herself. That the author is growing impatient (critical acclaim and rave reviews don’t pay the rent) might be guessed by the defiant, almost surreal, even more-audacious-than-usual vaguely apocalyptic conclusion with which he wraps things up. But somehow, once again Shannon manages to pull it off with his by now trademark wit and compassion.
Scary stuff, indeed.
Poisoned Pen, May 15, 2009, Patrick MillikinLiffey takes an assignment to find Blue, the issing teenaged daughter of his ex-wife’s best friend. His search takes him into a tense feud between Palos Verdes’ wealthy teen urfers and a group of Mexican day-laborers who camp in the area’s ravines. Patrick reports, “Over the course of eleven books, Shannon has shown us the real Los Angeles (if such is possible), taking us on a tour of LA County’s various ethnic communities. If you like Raymond Chandler, Michael Connelly, Nathanael West and Joan Didion, you need to read John Shannon. You won’t be disappointed...”
While I have heard of the Jack Liffey Mysteries, written by John Shannon, I have never read one before. I was fortunate enough to get a review copy of Palos Verdes Blue, which is the eleventh book in the series. I was a little worried that starting on book eleven would put me at a disadvantage, but luckily, that wasn't the case.
Palos Verdes is southern California city. It is also the name of an extremely endangered species of butterfly, native to only a single site on the Palos Verdes peninsula. It is actually the rarest butterfly on earth. And it is the starting point of Jack Liffey's investigation into the disappearance of a high school aged activist, Blaine "Blue" Hostetler. The daughter of his ex-wife's best friend, she has been missing for a couple days, and Jack has been enlisted to find her and bring her home.
His investigation takes him into the often ignored world of poverty that is the reality of the illegal immigrants that live and work in affluent communities of So Cal. There he meets Jaime, a young immigrant fleeing a sordid past of his own. Also, and unbeknownst to Jack, his seventeen year-old daughter Maeve (a classmate of the missing Blue), begins to investigate the disappearance as well. Although facing troubling issues of her own, Maeve soon begins to dig up significant clues, and makes some fairly insightful observations as to the possible location of the missing girl.
I really enjoyed Palos Verdes Blue, which could easily have been a stand-alone novel and not part of a series. I never felt like I was missing anything, however the characters were so richly drawn and believable, I will probably be hunting down books one thru ten simply to delve into their collective pasts, which were alluded to in this installment. In addition to multi-dimensional characters, Palos Verdes Blue was also a very relevant read, with much of its plot focusing on the subject of illegal immigration and the treatment of immigrants in this country. It was a stark reminder that many of us spend a lot of time with our blinders on, blissful in our deliberate ignorance of controversial issues.
On top of all of the rest, Palos Verdes Blue was also a great mystery, with enough red herrings and potential suspects and outcomes to keep you guessing until the end. There was also enough of a cliff hanger at the end (relating to the family drama and such, not the mystery itself) to make me anxious for the release of book twelve. Of course, between now and then I will be able to catch up on the volumes I have missed. Easily a four star read, one I would enthusiastically recommend to anyone.
Noir master Shannon's (The Concrete River) latest Jack Liffey thriller targets a dirty little secret of one of California's most affluent neighborhoods. When Liffey is hired to find the missing daughter of his ex-wife's best friend, he uncovers an intense turf war that escalates from homeboy harassment to murder and arson in the South Bay enclave of Palos Verdes. A band of rich local surfers bent on preserving their hold on Lunada Bay are terrorizing the Mexican day laborers who camp in the canyons surrounding the mansions they work in as houseboys and gardeners. As Liffey and his daughter Maeve search for the missing girl, they run afoul of a band of zealous border vigilantes, eager to help the locals defend their turf. The residents turn a blind eye to the war zone beyond their manicured hedges until a confrontation turns deadly. Shannon tackles a tough social issue with intelligence and a clear moral compass. His spare, noir style and articulate dialog strike just the right balance between thriller and social consciousness. His growing audience will love this. Recommended.—Susan Clifford Braun, Aerospace Corp., El Segundo, CA
PALOS VERDES BLUE, the 11th novel in John Shannon’s excellent and criminally unheralded Jack Liffey series is, like most of its predecessors, a literate, insightful, powerful and involving story. Once again, Shannon takes us to the slightly lesser celebrated sections of Southern California and exposes the often ugly realities behind the shimmering facades. And once again, it should be considered essential reading.
Jack Liffey, still the professional but unlicensed locater of missing children, is called by his ex-wife to call upon a friend of hers. So he ventures to the southern coastal, mostly upscale village of Palos Verdes to meet Helen Hostetler. Her high-school-aged daughter, Blaine, has been missing for several days.
Taking on the case, Liffey learns that Blaine was better known to her friends as Blue, a nickname she earned from her passionate activities to protect the endangered species of butterfly known as the Palos Verdes Blue. But an altogether different activity might have resulted in Blue’s disappearance. Liffey discovers that she was sympathetic to the Mexican migrants illegally employed in construction and housekeeping jobs in the area, many of whom live in cardboard campsites in the woods just north of the town.
Several of her classmates are surfers, who jealously keep outsiders away from their beach turf. One is known as Twitch, a renowned Bayboy surfer who suddenly finds his life crumbling around him when he discovers he is HIV-positive. But when Blue is suspected of bringing food to the migrant campsites, her name is brought before the Black Ops, a group of violent young racist reactionaries bent on keeping Mexicans out of the state.
One Black Ops member, a slightly older surfer known as Ledge, tries to recruit Twitch into his ranks. But Twitch, already uncertain of his future, is also torn by his noticing of one young Mexican worker who shows an unusual attraction to and aptitude for surfing.
Things get even more complicated when Liffey’s own high schooler daughter, Maeve, once again tries to assist her father without his knowing. But Maeve is constantly distracted by her own evolving sexuality, which causes her to almost forget about finding Blue and puts her own life in danger.
Then Liffey, after rescuing the young Mexican surfer from an abrupt deportation, is lead back to Palos Verdes and learns what may be the sad truth about Blue from Twitch. But outside, Ledge threatens a violent attack in retaliation for what he sees as Twitch’s betrayal.
That Shannon is able to hold all these disparate characters and storylines together is proof enough of his impressive narrative capacities. But he also manages to get under each character’s skin so economically and effectively that we are as swept up in their thoughts and emotions as we are the mystery of Blue. Shannon uses letter fragments to reveal the inner expressions of his two surfers, and miraculously, keeps this technique from becoming stale. The rest of the cast — including Liffey’s cop girlfriend, Maeve and Liffey himself — express their thoughts in the more traditional, but no less involving manner, as they get deeper into the stark economic extremes of the beautiful Pacific Coast locales.
Liffey is as existentially motivated and devoted to his personal ideals as any P.I. who ever followed down Raymond Chandler’s mean streets. But over the years, Shannon has proven that those mean streets cover far more ground — literally and figuratively — than Los Angeles. And in PALOS VERDES BLUE, they include rolling hills and sunny beaches that hold both allure and danger.
It bears repeating until it’s no longer necessary: Shannon is among the finest, most perceptive and intelligent crime authors working today. If you are not reading him, you should. —Alan Cranis