Monday, March 3, 2014

The Dark StreetsThe Dark Streets by John Shannon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

John Shannon’s “The Dark Streets” is the seventh Jack Liffey’s mystery that I have read. It is impossible to retain high literary level in a series, and this novel is no exception. It does not rise to the high quality of some earlier Shannon’s books, such as “The Orange Curtain” with its weird philosophical divagations, or “City of Strangers”, which is full of beautifully written, lyrical fragments. Gone is the almost magical whimsy of the early books; the socio-economic analysis is non-existent, and Mr. Shannon portrays Los Angeles without his usual sharp eye.

Jack Liffey is hired to find Soon-Lin, the missing daughter of a Korean businessman. Jack learns that Soon-Lin has been involved in a fight to stop a powerful corporation, Daeshin, from taking over the International House, where elderly Korean women live. Soon-Lin has also been working on a project that documented how Korean women were used during the war as “comfort women” for the Japanese Army. It soon becomes clear that the same Daeshin corporation was pioneering this forced prostitution business, where hundreds of women lost their dignity and future, and many lost their lives. The search for Soon-Lin forces Jack to deal with various forces, such as the leftist New World Liberation Front on one side and groups connected with Homeland Security on the other.

Meanwhile Jack’s daughter, Maeve, grows up quite rapidly and gets in trouble, while his girlfriend, Gloria, continues being her own conflicted self. Jack’s Dad (the “wizened old fuckhead” as Jack calls him) is mentioned again. We do not learn much new about any of the characters, and again I have to question the wisdom of continuing the series. Mr. Shannon’s writing is competent, but far from stellar. We get the trademark surreal scene from Los Angeles; the mention of pet colonoscopy made me smile. Also, on the plus side, we have a self-referential fragment where Jack Liffey is reading an article about himself, and the article contains quotes from Mr. Shannon’s novel “Terminal Island”. On the negative side, there is some poor writing, where, for instance, Mr. Shannon calls people “racist” instead of showing that they are racist. And while the plot is quite interesting, the ending of the novel is totally, and I mean totally implausible.

I greatly respect Mr. Shannon for his earlier writing, and I like Jack Liffey’s character, but this is not a very good book. Maybe seven books in a series are about four too many.

Two and a half stars.

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