JACK LIFFEY
MYSTERY SERIES
created by john shannon

BOOKLIST March 15, 2008 (STARRED REVIEW)

In the tenth installment of Shannon’s excellent Jack Liffey series, chance brings the ruminative PI and his headstrong daughter, Maeve, from L.A. to Bakersfield—and into a conflagration of anti-Satanist hysteria. The pregnant Maeve is incarcerated with other suspect teens, and Jack, his cop girlfriend, Gloria Ramirez, and a handful of colorful locals fight like hell to free her and restore the rule of law. While Liffey is constantly fine-tuning his moral compass, the bad guys he faces are usually zealots—like the megachurch pastor in this book—and the conflict is less black and white than black and gray. Here, Jack and Maeve’s intuitive morality meets unrelenting evangelical fervor, and the fight takes place in a literal fog.

Interspersed throughout the story are historical artifacts, real and reimagined, that paint a portrait of the Central Valley city as having a long history of isolationism, intolerance, and inhospitality. This book won’t be loved by the local chamber of commerce, but its message is universal. And if the idea of religious hysteria overwhelming government, even momentarily, seems far-fetched to some readers, both history and current events provide plenty of precedents. Another winner from a writer whose own moral compass is holding steady.

— Keir Graff

 

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY April, 2008

In Shannon’s searing 10th novel to feature Jack Liffey (after 2007’s The Dark Streets), Jack and his pregnant teenage daughter, Maeve, run into trouble in Bakersfield, Calif., after stopping there for the night on their way home to Los Angeles. When a sleepless Maeve leaves their motel for a walk, she’s falsely arrested for dope possession and jailed for a short time with Toxie, a rebellious teen with whom she discovers she shares a passion for Jane Eyre. Worried about Toxie, Maeve later returns from L.A. to Bakersfield, where Dennis Kohlmeyer, the paranoid pastor of the 10,000-member Olive Grove Evangelical Church, has incited his flock to hysteria against “devil worshippers.” Scenes of book burning, exorcism, wholesale jailings and worse may strike some as exaggerated, but Shannon cites actual examples of Bakersfield’s long history of racial and social prejudice throughout. The plot-driven action builds to an either/or ending on which readers are invited to vote on the author’s Web site.

 

THE POISONED PEN, April 2008

Regular 'Booknews' readers have been listening to me sing the praises of John Shannon's Jack LIffey series for nearly a decade, and I continue to insist that these books are modern classics of Los Angeles crime fiction. Finally some of Shannon's early books are coming back into print, including the first Liffey, The Concrete River. Through ten books now, Shannon has taken his PI and single-father Liffey systematically through different cultural enclaves of LA. Now he turns his attention to Bakersfield, where Liffey and his pregnant eighteen-year-old daughter Maeve have escaped for a weekend trip. The Liffeys walk into a political climate that borders on the hysterical. A long-established evangelical group has targeted teenage girls as potential satanists and it isn't long before Maeve is falsely arrested and thrown into the volatile brew.

— Patrick Millikin

 

 

THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC, May 14, 2008

Scottsdale--John Shannon grew up in the heart of Los Angeles and knows the dark streets of ethnic neighborhoods that give the city its character.

In the 1960s, he taught with the Peaces Corps in Africa.

In the 1970s, he was a political and anti-war activist.

Such experiences haven't gone to waste. Since 1972, Shannon has been a novelist, infusing his work with the reality of the gritty side of the City of Angels.

His father was a reporter at the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and Shannon worked theer for three summers as a young man. Now he uses a journalist's eye to bring depth to his fiction as his hero, private investigator Jack Liffey, travels through communities of Koreans, Mexicans and Vietnamese.

His 14th novel and 10th mystery, The Devils of Bakersfield, draws from real life and what he calls the hysteria over supposed devil worship around California three decades ago.

Shannon will sign his book Thursday at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale.

"I keep trying to do something a little different in each book," Shannon said from his home in Topanga, Calif.

What's different about The Devils of Bakersfield, he said, is that he supplies readers with two endings in the book. This latest Jack Liffey mystery finds Liffey and his 18-year-old daughter Maeve in Bakersfield, where Maeve is mistakenly arrested for drug possession when she befriends young rebel Toxie.

At work in town is the pastor of an evangelical church inciting his congregation against presumed devil worshipers. Bakersfield in real life has a heritage of social prejudice, Shannon said, and charges of satanic cults sprang up in several cities in Southern California in the '80s, charges that proved unfounded.

Maeve has a dilemma: She is pregnant with the child of a gang member who has abandoned her and fled to Mexico just as she was making plans for college.

Will Maeve have an abortion and continue with her college plans, or will she keep the baby?

The choice will impact future novels, Shannon said. He knows which choice she makes, but he's not telling. Readers will have to wait for those subsequent books.

Liffey fans, however, can vote on what happens to Maeve at Shannon's web site, www.jackliffey.com.

It might be easy to guess which way the author is leaning. Remember that Shannon, 65, is an old lefty who in 1992 self-published The Taking of the Waters, an epic history of the far left in America, after his publisher asked him to cut out the section on communism.

But Maeve's fate is ultimately in Shannon's hands, despite the involvement of readers. "I'm the novelist. I get to make the decision," he said with a laugh.

— Barbara Yost

 

CrimeTime Magazine, UK


It's been twelve years since the appearance of John Shannon's The Concrete River that featured the politically aware but world-weary private investigator Jack Liffey. The Devils of Bakersfield is Shannon's tenth Liffey novel, all of them worth reading. Yet Shannon has always flown under the radar of most crime fiction critics. Inexplicable, perhaps; after all, not all that much separates Shannon from the Michael Connelly's and Robert Crais' of the publishing world. On the other hand, the leftist politics of Shannon and his protagonist probably has something to do with his relative lack of recognition, particularly when traditional p.i.'s are meant to be more pragmatic than overtly political. However, Shannon's entertaining and well-written books, with their investigations of crime, corruption, shady deals, disaster capitalism and fundamentalist culture constitute nothing short of a social history of modern day Los Angeles.

Not surprisingly, Liffey, a former aeronautics technician making ends meet as private investigator, bears, biographically-speaking, an uncanny resemblance to his author. Wish-fulfillment on Shannon's part? Perhaps, yet Liffey, who specialises in finding missing children, goes places Shannon or, for that matter, Chandler's Marlowe, might hesitate to travel. While Liffey, now older and wiser, has already ventured into Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Iranian communities, in The Devils of Bakersfield, Liffey travels sixty miles north of L.A., to the land that, with its Oakie and redneck population, put southern back into Southern California. There Liffey finds a town so obsessed with satanic cults they find it necessary to round up teenage girls outside the moral restraints of local religious fundamentalists. At first sight, a caricature- though Liffey does come across a handful of Bakersfield freethinkers, including a lesbian lawyer, a fellow investigator, a rancher and one-time compañero of Cesar Chavez- anyone familiar with the region will recognize the plausibility of Shannon's narrative. With snippets of social history thrown into the mix for good measure, The Devils of Bakersfield, like Shannon's other novels, is a page-turner and a confrontational critique of the culture. Moreover, Jack Liffey proves once again that he's the most humane and politically conscious of L.A. private eyes.

Woody Haut

 

 

On-line Magazine "I Love a Mystery"

THE DEVILS OF BAKERSFIELD
JOHN SHANNON

The town of Bakersfield, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, has gotten a bad rap in modern times. Its reputation goes back to the 1920s and 30s and the town's grim history of prejudice against Okies, then blacks, then labour organizations. The city is rated (by Wikipedia) as the most conservative in California, and the eighth most conservative in the U.S.

A town with these characteristics provides an ideal setting for THE DEVILS OF BAKERSFIELD. The religious fervour that instigates a gigantic book burning and instills paranoia towards a group of rebellious youth, seems as natural as sin in this milieu. Jack Liffey, who has established a reputation as a missing child finder, has a personal mission this time, searching for his missing pregnant daughter, Maeve. She has fallen into the hands of a loopy and ruthless fundamentalist pastor who is convinced that Bakersfield is to be the battleground for a showdown with the Devil. The novel is interspersed with stories about Bakersfield's past, news bulletins, book excerpts, and warnings to minorities, all of which confirm the prejudices and biases of the people, and add to our conviction that the Devil has chosen well, and that such a showdown just may be about to happen.

There is an unsavory and evil undercurrent running through the town that threatens to overpower Liffey and his friends. Even the police are affected. The showdown, with the pastor in full oratorical flight, brings the novel thundering down the backstretch, with the added unanswered question of what Maeve is to do about her pregnancy, abort or have the child.

Jack Liffey has his moments here, but shares the stage with daughter Maeve, and his girlfriend, the resourceful LA cop, Gloria Ramirez. This is an exciting read, another gem in the Jack Liffey series. RECOMMENDED.

Michael F. Hennessey

 

 

Bookgasm Website

For the past 12 years, Southern California-based author John Shannon has been quietly producing one of the finest series of contemporary crime novels that, sadly, few have heard about. Yet numerous reviewers and fellow writers of much higher-profile (Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, James Sallis, etc.) have proclaimed his novels featuring the divorced, laid-off aerospace copywriter Jack Liffey as the most worthy successor to the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald.

A professional “finder of missing children,” Liffey’s work takes him into the fascinating but less celebrated sections of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. THE DEVILS OF BAKERSFIELD, the 10th in the series, is notable for a few significant departures. It is more immediate and intimate, in that the missing child here is Jack’s own 17-year-old daughter, Maeve. But it ends up being the most thought-provoking and suspenseful of the series, and worth a lot more than the continued devotion of his cult of readers.

 

Maeve — six weeks pregnant as a result of events in Shannon’s previous novel, THE DARK STREETS — and Jack drive north of L.A. in search of a campsite for some quality father-daughter time. But crowds celebrating some kind of harmonic convergence force them into nearby Bakersfield for the night. Unable to sleep, Maeve goes for a walk and is soon arrested for soliciting and drug possession.

After some desperate tail-chasing, Jack finds and rescues his daughter, but not before she makes fast friends with Toxie, a young local also locked up. And no sooner does Jack and Maeve return to their home in L.A. when Maeve sneaks out to rescue her new friend.

In the meantime, a baby is found murdered. Near the body is a note
suggesting the murder was the work of Satan worshippers. Pastor Dennis Kohlmeyer of the 10,000-member Olive Grove Evangelical Church quickly whips the Bakersfield faithful into a frenzy. A book-burning is staged, followed by the roundup and incarceration of all young local Goth kids, including, of course, Toxie and Maeve. And Toxie becomes the subject of an amateur exorcism.

Jack enlists the aid of his girlfriend Gloria, an L.A. cop, along with a few of the more open-minded locals to both find the murderer of the baby, and track down Maeve. Meanwhile, the locals are arming themselves for what Pastor Kohlmeyer is certain is a dress rehearsal of Armageddon.

Shannon is not likely to win many new fans from the Bakersfield area, especially with his peppering the narrative with several historical artifacts demonstrating the area’s history of intolerance and the conflicts of its Okie-immigrant population. And Shannon also takes full advantage of the thick, blinding fog that blankets the town at night, giving it an eerie, horror-film ambience. But a closer reading reveals those less prejudiced residents who recognize the violation of civil rights in the midst of the evangelical fury and try to re-establish order.

And as if all of this weren’t enough, there is a whole slew of moral ambiguities boiling thoughout the novel. Maeve can’t make up her mind about how to deal with her pregnancy; Kohlmeyer constantly calls his faith into question as he feels he is not worthy of the task ahead; and, as is often the case in this series, Jack himself struggles to define himself and find some sort of reassurance in his adjusting definitions.

A shifting series of publishers and a lack of mass-market paperback editions are among the main reasons why Shannon’s work continually goes from hardcover release to obscurity. But Pegasus Books, his current house, is valiantly trying to resolve this problem by bringing his earlier Liffey titles back into print in handsome trade editions, starting with THE CONCRETE RIVER and THE CRACKED EARTH, the first and second in the series.

But don’t put it off any longer. Get THE DEVILS OF BAKERSFIELD. You’ll soon be searching for the earlier titles. It’s high time this cult became part of the general public. —Alan Cranis

 


 

 

 

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