Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Orange CurtainThe Orange Curtain by John Shannon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Average ratings of John Shannon's Jack Liffey series are rather low and no wonder - these are not your typical mystery novels. Usually, readers of mysteries go for the plot and rate books by intricacy, twistedness, speed, and unpredictability of the stories. Mr. Shannon. instead, is a sort of a modern Ross Macdonald who puts socio-economic, historical, and cultural observations in the forefront while the plot meanders in between. In addition, Mr. Shannon's novels are rich in literary and philosophical references, some of which are interesting and insightful, whereas others are pretentious and stilted.

"The Orange Curtain" contains, for instance, the discussions of: philosophy of Hegel, linguistic consequences of a brain tumor, and numerous quotes on toadstones, such as "These convex osseous Tubercles are of the same kind with our English Bufonites or Toadstones - Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1696)". I suspect Mr. Shannon is just having fun at the expense of the reader, but who knows, maybe there is some depth to it?

The plot of "Orange Curtain" takes place in the Vietnamese communities of Orange County. Mr. Liffey is hired to find a young Vietnamese woman who disappeared. Looking for Minh Phuong, he drives on the streets that I know quite well, for instance, Beach Boulevard. He eats lomo saltado in a Peruvian restaurant, which I frequently do as well. This may have caused my positive bias toward the novel.

There is a corporate undercurrent that is based on a struggle between various businesses and people over a new airport construction. The cultural and economic differences between Orange County (aka "Orange Curtain") and L.A. County are well rendered. As usual, there is Mr. Shannon's signature scene of something weird going on in the L.A. metropolis - this time Jack Liffey watches people throwing their possessions into a burning bungalow, presumably their own bungalow.

The thread of relationship between Mr. Liffey and his teenage daughter Maeve is very well drawn. Tien Joubert, a powerful yet vulnerable Vietnamese businesswoman is portrayed vividly and with quite some psychological depth.

A few pages of the novel left me totally speechless: Jack Liffey meets the actual Philip Marlowe, who is in his nineties but still lucid. The conversation between them is totally extraneous to the novel, but I suppose it was again great fun for Mr. Shannon to write. The fast-action ending is quite ridiculous, but the very last sentence of the novel is a gem.

Four stars.

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