City of Strangers

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Jack Liffey is hired to find a girl who ran away with her Persian-American boyfriend Fariborz. Liffey’s quest takes him across the border into Tijuana, where he finds the precocious teenager living in luxury on the one million dollars she stole from drug dealers. Liffey warns Becky she is in imminent danger and advises her to flee to Europe. She gets away, but Liffey falls into the clutches of merciless narcotraficos, who torture him to find out where Becky went with their money.

Fariborz and several idealistic Persian-American friends have gotten brainwashed by Arab Islamic terrorists. Liffey convinces Fariborz they are being set up as human sacrifices in a plot to bomb Los Angeles with a power-cloud of radioactive plutonium. Fariborz, who speaks Spanish and knows his way around the Mexican border, helps Liffey sneak back into the U.S. in order to elude the corrupt Mexican federal authorities.

Liffey guesses that the “dirty bomb” set to explode at noon is placed atop the Library Tower, the tallest building in Los Angeles. Can he get there in time to defuse it?

Jack Liffey strongly resembles Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in being poor but honest, compassionate, perceptive, witty, and somewhat masochistic. Author John Shannon, however, has chosen not to imitate Chandler’s first-person narrative style, perhaps to avoid sounding too much like Chandler, but also to have freedom to vary points of view. City of Strangers, like the previous Liffey novels, provides a good read and shows a Chandleresque fascination with the heat-soaked, smog-choked, ever-expanding megalopolis of Los Angeles.