Dangerous Games by John Shannon

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Dangerous Games

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

By most measures, Jack Liffey's life is a mess. He cannot seem to sustain a long- term relationship with a woman, despite his best efforts. When his teenage daughter Maeve finally gets to visit him, she ends up in surgery, as the chance target of a neighborhood shoot- out. He has long since given up his good job in aerospace engineering for the shaky finances of a private investigator. Nonetheless, when yet another young woman disappears—this time Luisa, the lovely niece of his police officer fiancee Gloria—he agrees to hunt for her, because that is what he does. He finds missing children.

The trail starts at the tiny Paiute reservation where Luisa grew up. After meeting the girl's psychotic stepfather, it is clear to Jack and Gloria that she had good reason to run away. Sadly, in Luisa's case the fantasy of discovery by Hollywood has morphed into that of becoming a porn star. Luisa's high school friend gives them a couple of leads to follow, which propel Jack's search through an increasingly bizarre cross-section of small-time "entrepreneurs." The porn trade, he discovers, is not the only industry dangerous to beautiful, naive young women.

Meanwhile, he has to deal with the aftermath of Maeve's injury. With the vitality of youth, she is not only recovering, but upbeat. Jack, however, is haunted by his need to avenge the shooting. At first appalled by the young attacker's incoherence and lack of any motive, Jack finds his own attitude turning to compassion when he talks to the youth. Thumb Estrada reads history books and seems honestly bewildered by the turn his life has taken. Perhaps, despite Gloria's tough-cop distrust of him, he is one of the lost ones who can be saved.

As Liffey gets closer to Luisa, she keeps being passed from one sleazy character to another. All the time, with heartbreaking poignancy, she weaves short-lived fantasies about the new man as the one who will finally care for and rescue her. The trail ends in the Malibu Hills, amidst a raging wildfire. Seldom have so much peril and suspense capped a story's climax—and all without the "easy" device of a gun battle.

Dangerous Games is rich in character depth. Its Los Angeles scenes and oddities are both authentic and amazing. Some critics have compared author John Shannon to Raymond Chandler. However, the book's appeal goes far beyond the aficionado of private eye mysteries. Any reader who picks up this novel will probably want to read the entire Jack Liffey series.