FIRST LINE: "A small boy stood in front of the pickup holding a plastic machine gun that flashed its red transparent barrel as it clacked away gruesomely."
PALOS VERDES BLUE was my first experience reading John Shannon, but he's no stranger to the crime fiction genre. PALOS VERDES BLUE is the eleventh novel in Shannon's Jack Liffey series. Jack Liffey is a specialized private eye living and working in Southern California. He's not a licensed P.I. but he finds missing children. In PALOS VERDES BLUE, he's looking for Blaine (a.k.a. Blue), the teenage daughter of Jack's ex-wife's best friend. While looking for Blue, he uncovers the ugliness of the very wealthy Palos Verdes. What he finds just may endanger Jack and everyone around him.
The first question that popped into my head while reading this book was "why haven't I heard of this series before now?" The characters in this novel are flat out amazing. Maeve, Jack's daughter, made me think of Veronica Mars in her attempts to investigate for her father. Her struggles for indepedence and for self-identification are beautiful. And all the while there's still that element of her that clings to being her father's little girl. Jaime is a determined illegal immigrant who works hard and keeps his nose down. And Jack is the classic P.I. His internal struggles often isolate him, but he tries his best to do what he believes is the right thing. Shannon crafted several scenes with Jack and his dog, Loco, that truly drive home the authenticity of Jack Liffey.
Shannon also has a distinct knack with his antagonists. He isn't drawing any psycho serial killers or some other rare aberrant character; even more scary, he's created the average person and what ugliness hate and intolerance are capable of producing. He also examines how easy it is to be pulled into that circle of hate without meaning to be. And that ultimately leads to the themes of this novel.
Shannon's writing about sunny Southern California, but like many in the genre before him, it's a dark road he's walking. PALOS VERDES BLUE examines a hot button topic in illegal immigration, but even more than that, it examines being an outsider and the struggles that go along with outsider status. The theme ties in beautifully with the title of the novel as well.
The format of the book is unique in that letters are interspersed throughout. Some of the letters are written by Jaime back to his sister in Mexico. Other letters are written by a character named Brandon (a.k.a. Twitch) to his father. At first I wasn't grasping the concept, but as I progressed into the novel, it made much more sense and was an effective tool.
Maeve seems to be translating the letters from Jaime to his sister because various comments are made by her throughout those notes. What I never quite understood was how Maeve and/or Jack came to have the letters to be able to translate them. I'm not sure if I missed it in my reading or if it's a technique Shannon has used throughout the series and it's explained earlier. I loved the use of the letters; it was a fantastic way to change point of view, but I just didn't see where Maeve would have come by the letters. That's a minor point where examined in the whole scheme of the strengths of this novel.
This is a series I will definitely continue to follow and recommend to others.
PALOS VERDES BLUE was released in April of this year and is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-60598-037-9) from Pegasus Books.