Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Concrete RiverConcrete River by John Shannon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Advertising blurbs mention Raymond Chandler and his Philip Marlow. I don't think so. It is Ross Macdonald's work that Mr. Shannon's "The Concrete River" reminds me the most, in a good way. Bleak yet acute sociological observations are not what Chandler is known for. Shannon shares with Macdonald a vision of society in decay. They both are disturbed by this vision.

The main character, Jack Liffey is well drawn as is Eleanor Ong, an ex-nun and a community activist. However, some of their dialogues sound contrived, over-philosophized, and just irritating (like the pop-psychology in the same author's "City of Strangers"). On the other hand, the descriptions of a barrio in L.A. are wonderful, and there are some lyrical moments like the vision of plastic cups in the L.A. River. The whole book elegantly meanders around this concrete river. There is even some humor, like the scene featuring a guy with a hacksaw cutting his misbehaving station wagon in two on the freeway. And there is no bloat in the book; it is wonderfully short, at less than 230 pages.

The sad-and-sweet ending fits well this good book that could have been better. Mr. Shannon is no Ross Macdonald, but at least he is trying.

Three and a half stars.

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