Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working my way through the novels of John Shannon — one of the most ambitious and interesting series in contemporary crime fiction. Shannon’s books have been compared to Raymond Chandler and have been labelled noir, but ultimately Shannon’s books seem to defy comparisons and labels; in fact, in a panel yesterday at Bouchercon by the Bay, Shannon himself claimed that his books weren’t really mysteries at all, but family novels — soap operas even. And since his novels focus as much on the existential crises of troubled hero Jack Liffey and his shifting relationships with his daughter, his ex-wife, his lovers as they do on any crime at hand… well, it’s tough not to agree.
Tough noir meets the domestic drama? While these various directions may threaten to confound some readers, I’ve found the dynamism both enthralling and provocative, and I ultimately consider this ambitious series as a whole to be a model for the flexibility of this genre we call crime fiction.
Today’s Washington Post runs my review of Shannon’s latest novel, On the Nickel (and later this month, I’ll present the paper “‘You’re F***** We’re Your Future’: Children and Teens in John Shannon’s Jack Liffey Novels” at the Mid-Atlantic Popular & American Culture Association’s 2010 Annual Conference). While I’d recommend previous books as a better starting point for those new to the series (try Streets on Fire, for example, or The Dark Streets or Palos Verdes Blue, among my own favorites), On The Nickel proves to be another great addition to this continuing saga.