The Devils of Bakersfield: A Jack Liffey Mystery by John Shannon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I promised myself never to get angry when reviewing books, but this time I am going to break the rule. It is incomprehensible how a writer of John Shannon's caliber can produce something as monstrously bad as "The Devils of Bakersfield". I rated Mr. Shannon's "Orange Curtain" and "City of Strangers" with four stars. I still remember these books, with their piercing social observations and interesting cultural references, yet charming and full of whimsy. Later books are significantly weaker, marred by in-your-face, smarmy political correctness, but they are still readable and have some good parts.
A mutilated body of a baby is found in Bakersfield, California, and a fundamentalist church, led by a zealous pastor, embarks on a crusade to fight the Devil. They have support from many city officials and from the police force. Jack Liffey and his pregnant daughter, Maeve, happen to be in Bakersfield at the time. Maeve gets arrested. There are mass detentions of teenagers because of their Goth attire. There are book burnings and religious marches culminating in hysteria. "Banish Satan!" leaflets flood the streets. Repeated exorcisms on a young woman are performed. Bakersfield is the site of the holy battle against the Devil.
This might even be slightly funny as a broad satire, a caricature of fundamentalist zealots. But Mr. Shannon intertwines the ridiculously implausible plot with ostensibly authentic "artifacts" - texts from the period between 1887 - 1989 that illustrate a history of oppression and intolerance against minorities and outsiders in Bakersfield. This is not right, Mr. Shannon! Comparing the plight of migrant workers slaving in the fields of Central Valley in California to contrived exploits of cartoonish characters is deceitful. Mentioning John Steinbeck and "Grapes of Wrath" will not help Mr. Shannon justify using these fraudulent comparisons.
Despite competent writing, despite a truly funny passage about the usual idiots on a SWAT team, despite some heartfelt fragments about the unions and the Okies, the novel is revoltingly bad. It is probably the single worst book I have reviewed so far, out of roughly 150 novels.
One star (only because a zero is not allowed).
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