SYNOPSIS: Former Hollywood bodyguard and now parolee Jimmy Boone is working as a bartender as well managing a small apartment complex, and generally just trying to keep his head down. No more bad decisions like the one that caused him to beat a man Jimmy incorrectly mistook for a child molester. Just stay squeaky clean and do nothing, nothing to violate his parole and get sent back to prison. When Robo, the bar's bouncer, asks Jimmy to tag along while Robo talks to an old man whose illegal immigrant son died of infected dog bites, Jimmy is supposed to do nothing but look like a cop. For $80, Jimmy figures he can do that. Jimmy didn't know his own curiosity and compassion would mix him up with drug-dealers, a crazed ex-stripper, a toothless pit bull, a no-nonsense ex-cop with a great figure, a dog-fighting ring, a desperate-to-make-a-score petty crime boss, and a whole bunch of counterfeit money. At times, going back to prison starts to look like a pretty good option.
REVIEW: Tell Michael Connelly and T. Jefferson Parker to just shove over and make room for Richard Lange. When it comes to making the sprawling city of Los Angeles a character and not just a setting, Lange has done it here as well as anyone ever has. The streets of Hollywood and of South Central have never felt more sun-baked and alive with the scents and the scurrying of human activity.
Adding to the "you are there" atmosphere, Lange has populated his story with unforgettable characters, starting with a brief encounter with Oscar Rosales, a young man so filled with fear that he will not even seek treatment for his infected wounds. Lange doesn't just paint a desperate picture of Oscar's swan song, he gives you Oscar's dreams for the future and the motives that continue to drive him even through his fear. Every character has his own story and motives and mannerisms, and it is at the intersections of these people where the author seamlessly blends their personalities into actions.
Another example of the brilliance of Lange's characterization is the crime boss, Taggert. In lesser hands, Taggert would be just another example of a vicious, violent, no-holds-barred psychopath. Lange's deft touch maintains Taggert's base nature; he is despicable but he is also human, and though the reader never stoops to sympathy for him, Taggert's insecurity and his genuine affection for his girlfriend, Olivia, make him interesting and unpredictable. Olivia is even more unpredictable. She's clever and ambitious and she's pushing Taggert very hard to be made not just his sleeping partner, but also his business partner.
The story's pacing is remarkable. It's like climbing a steep hill, downshifting and and becoming more and more anxious about your vehicle making it to the top when suddenly you're there and then on the down slope, engine racing - and your friggin' brakes have failed. Like that.
If I have a quibble about this book, it is that the Chandleresque noir feel is almost undone by the unexpected hope extended to Jimmy at the story's end. But that's just me. I like an ending where everybody loses. I think most people will prefer Lange's ending. I'm looking forward to his next beginning.