Jack Liffey

Created by John Shannon

First Los Angeleno JACK LIFFEY lost his job as a technical writer. Then he lost his wife and, for a while, his daughter, to divorce. All he has left is his unerring ability to track down missing children, which keeps him busy for the most part, and away from booze, drugs, Raymond Chandler novels and other dangerous addictions.

Sounds like yet another loser eye, but John Shannon infuses this series with a passionate vision all his own. There’s a lot of the usual L.A. gloom, doom and angst, and a lot of sly winks at the P.I. tradition, but Shannon gets away with it all, because he’s a very good writer. The Greek chorus of homies in the early books whose drug-dealing turf includes Jack’s apartment building, the slow disintegration of the city through forces of nature and man (that nature obsession is almost Canadian!), the surreal crime and traffic incidents, the little in-jokes, the tip of the fedoras to Ivan Monk and The Bradbury Building and even an elderly Philip Marlowe make this one of the best and most entertaining new P.I. series I’ve come across in years.

But Shannon’s not content with just showing just the usual mean streets of the City of Angels, he’s after the whole enchilada, exploring the various sub-cultures of this multiple personality city–gangbangers, desert rats, the Hollywood set, domestic terrorists, South African nutjobs–you name it, Jack’s had to deal with them. And it’s all set against a background of crumbling infrastructure, cultural, intellectual and moral decay and the never-ending catastrophes–personal, political, environmental and cultural–that seem to plague Jack and his city. Things fall apart; the centre doesn’t hold. But damn if Shannon, middle-aged, battered and bruised,  doesn’t still want to probe the wounds.

Nothing it seems–broken hearts, guns, personal losses, knives, earthquakes, mudslides, the loss of a lung–can stop him. Somehow he takes the lickings, and keeps on ticking, like some shamus Energizer Bunny. Somehow Jack Liffey abides…

When I first read The Concrete River (1996), I had no idea I’d ever tread the streets of Los Angeles, but even then I felt that Shannon was someone to watch, and I suggested that fans of Ross Macdonald and Stephen Greenleaf in particular should take note. I’m glad to say that subsequent books in the series have proven me right, time and time again, and when I did finally end up in southern California, it was Liffey’s Los Angeles and environs I met, not Chandler’s. In fact, I even used some of Shannon’s suggested walking tours on his web site to first explore the city, and damn if every single one of his razor-edged observations and caustic asides didn’t ring true.

Simply put, one of the very best (and most unjustly ignored) private eyes of his time, a sharp-eyed social critic whose fierce anger and passionate intelligence never stand in the way of his muscular storytelling and all-too-human characters; easily on a peer with contemporaries like Pelecanos and Mosley; a writer who cast his fiery, unflinching gaze not just upon his villains but his heroes as well.


John Shannon grew up in San Pedro, California, “amidst the sons of radical longshoremen, shipyard workers and fishermen. They still called themselves Yugoslavs then, rather than Croats or Serbs. My friends were proud of the tale — probably apocryphal — that their fathers had once hidden in wait for the LAPD “Red Squad,” and beat the shit out of them.” He has worked as a journalist, technical writer, video producer, a school teacher in Africa and a political activist. Besides the Jack Liffey books, he has published four other novels, including The Orphan, Courage and The Taking of the Waters, a multi-generational saga of the American Left.


  • “You can read the first few words of any newspaper article or editorial in any paper in America and guess all of the rest. This is one of the few places on the face of the earth where ignorance is considered a legitimate point of view.”
    John Shannon in I Love L.A.: The January Magazine Interview


  • “The landscape of Los Angeles, both actually and metaphorically, has been deconstructed by writers from the West from Chandler to Didion, but never quite as artfully as John Shannon does it in The Cracked Earth… A fine, interesting read.”
    — James Crumley
  • “In The Orange Curtain, Shannon has written an intelligent, surprising book, found the heart of his working class characters, and delivered a first-rate thriller in the bargain.”
    — George Pelecanos
  • “With his sixth Jack Liffey book, Shannon’s series is still on an upward trajectory. Liffey is a terrific character–smart, funny, sad, and a keen observer of social strata and the world at large. His journey after the truth is realistically messy, and we’re with him every step of the way. If only all mystery novels were this good.”
    — Keir Graff onCity of Strangers (Booklist)
  • “I love the Jack Liffey novels — a cocktail of Moses Wine politics, Spenserian sociology and wit, medium-boiled Nudgerian/Samsonesque humanity, and, often, a dash of Irwin Allen-style, semi-apocalyptic Southern California disaster. Liffey takes his physical and metaphorical lumps like a kickboxing dummy in an anger management session.”
    — Martin Ross (September 2021, One-Short Wonders)





  • John Shannon’s Jack Liffey Mysteries
    The official site is up and running. John thinks of it as “the DVD version of the books, with extra inside information, L.A. lore, bios, pix, L.A. tours, etc.”
  • I Love L.A.
    Kevin Burton Smith’s 2003 interview with Shannon for January Magazine.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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