created by john shannon



Mike Lewis

This character is based on the feisty L.A. social historian Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz, and Ecology of Fear. The first of these books, a brilliant series of unrelated essays that turned up a lot of flat rocks with ugly history beneath, caused a sensation in town, and the second, in part an expose of how the city subsidizes rich developers putting housing in dangerous areas, brought down a shitstorm on poor Mike. A giant lawsuit threatened to take away the money a MacArthur genius grant had just awarded him, the L.A. Times, which had once quoted him endlessly, appointed a whole hit team of reporters to find fault with his books, and reportedly he was denied a tenured teaching post that he was in line for.

Mike and I were in a New Left group together many moons ago and are distant friends. He did have an Irish wife some years ago when we were closer, but this was before he fled town ahead of the storm. Alas, L.A.'s premiere social historian has now been exiled to teaching at SUNY-Stoneybrook and he has bought a house in Hawaii. In the 1940s we lost Carey McWilliams to New York and the editorship of The Nation, and now Mike. L.A. needs to grow and keep someone who will write its definitive history.


Chris Johnson

This character is based on a close friend, who did indeed co-own a small computer game company that suffered the same fate as PropellorHeads. The company was called Viridis. The other owner was British, not Australian, and the employees were not quite as extravagantly Couplandesque as I depicted them.



The town in The Concrete River. Of course there is no such place, but the town of Bell resembles it quite a lot.



Lori Bright's films


None of the films mentioned exists, but who is Lori herself meant to resemble? You didn't think I'd actually tell you that, did you?


Ivan Monk

I borrowed this character from a wonderful series of mysteries of L.A. social history written by Gary Phillips, my friend and one-time business partner in John Brown Books. I asked permission. My Ivan is based on his Ivan and on Gary himself, though he speaks much deeper Black English than either of them. This is just Ivan making fun of Jack and mau-mauing him a bit.


The Astaire

Jack's condo complex. It's a lot like mine, built in the early 1970s on what was the back lot of MGM, the beginning of a long process of stripping MGM's assets for cash that ended up reducing what was once the biggest studio of them all to a simple releasing company in a smaller office in Santa Monica. Sony-Columbia now owns the storied MGM lot and the big Leo the Lion has come down from then water tank that can be seen from all over town. There are a row of these condos on the former back lot that are named, directly or indirectly, after MGM films. Raintree, Tara Hill. In fact the latter is mine and was built on the very spot where they burned Atlanta in Gone With the Wind. Since Fred Astaire was a big MGM star, using his name seemed in keeping with creating this noir L.A. that is slightly out of kilter with ours.


Jack Liffey Jack Liffey Jack Liffey

I use his full name every time he is mentioned, and many other characters as well. Some people have objected to this. It began in a previous book as a protest against the convention that much fiction refers to men by their last names and women, patronizingly, by their first names. All or nothing, I figured. I have since discovered that I'm not alone in this practice. For whatever reason, throughout The Glass Key, Hammett uses the full name Ned Beaumont for his hero. Though everybody else gets first names only.


The absurd/bizarre interludes

You may have noted that whenever Jack Liffey travels anywhere he encounters brief absurd events, unconnected to the story--two amputees dueling with their prosthetic arms, naked men waving at traffic, women in Nazi uniforms marching up the street, etc. To some degree this is not so unusual in this town, it is after all the low end of the American tray where all the loose screws end up, but these spectacles also betoken a kind of dystopic collapse of normality that the series as a whole is about.

Jack Liffey and his daughter Maeve have a contest showing each other these oddities and awarding points. Most of the oddities they show one another, such as the absurd John Wayne sculpture (see below) actually exist. Some of the others are, ahem, inventions.

Note that in The Orange Curtain, the minute Jack Liffey leaves L.A. for Orange County these things stop, and then something bizarre greets him again every time he re-enters.


John Wayne sculpture

It's there, folks. Just off La Cienega on the north flank of the oval Hustler Magazine Headquarters, formerly Great Western bank headquarters. Duke is indeed quite a bit too large for the horse he's on, and I have no idea whether this was intentional. By the way, those who call him The Duke are wrong. The nickname was simply Duke, after a dog he had as a child.


Secret Routes over the Hollywood Hills

The Jack Liffey books give two secret routes over the hills, one in The Cracked Earth, much to the east involving Robin Lane, Sunshine Terrace, and Halcyon. Don't try this one. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. The second secret route, much further west, from Streets on Fire, involves Woodcliffe and Roscomare. This one will work fine.


The Mysterious Photograph on the French Cover

"That photo came to my mind on reading La Riviere en Beton--a car of dubious nature emerging from a dark one-way street and duplicated by the graffiti on the far wall. The right mood, I thought, for that rich enticing noir American novel."
--Cover photographer Marilyn L.R.


Copyright © John Shannon 2015. All rights reserved.