RARA-AVIS: Shannon, The Poison Sky

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 09 Nov 2004

I'm just about finished THE POISON SKY (2000), by John Shannon, the third book about Jack Liffey (see http://www.jackliffey.com/). Ms. (Matkowski) Perry sent it up and I thank her again! This is a fine book. I like this series.

When Jack Liffey goes out for a drive, he doesn't turn up the CD player to hear Dexter Gordon blowing a long, sweet solo while he drives along Cahuenga, the night air now crisp that it's lost the heat of the day, the lights of the city illuminating the night as he ponders his place in the universe, alone, ineffable. No, when he goes out, the plastic sheets covering his smashed windows flap, and he goes by a farm truck that's overturned and left a terrified cow trapped inside. Or an earthquake has ripped a street in half and everyone's stuck for an hour while a confused cop tries to sort things out. I've never been to LA and can't judge the book against reality, but man, this LA is a hell of a place.

Two small things bug me about this book. First, there's a bit of computer hacking, and it's mostly done well but there are some lines that will clang on any geek's ears. Everyone notices the incorrect details in their fields of interest, and this is one of mine.

Second, in another field of interest, someone tells the story of how an old hardboiled writer used to have some fun by putting rude slang words into his stories and waiting to see what his editor took out and what got through. The best one was "gunsel," which meant catamite, but was understood by the editor to mean hoodlum. And which is fact it has come to mean. In the book, the writer is Chandler, but it was really Hammett, and the gunsel was Wilmer in THE MALTESE FALCON. Shannon obviously knows and love the old hardboiled writers, so it's a strange mistake.

Nevertheless, this is very good stuff. Jack Liffey knows the score.

Ms. Perry, there was something about the book you wanted to say when I'd read it. Is it the gunsel thing?



William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 09 Nov 2004 EST