Shannon, John 1943-

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Shannon, John 1943-

(John H. Shannon)

PERSONAL: Born November 29, 1943, in Detroit, MI; son of Herb (a reporter) and Ruth (Merrick) Shannon; divorced. Education: Pomona College, B.A., 1965; University of CaliforniaLos Angeles, M.F.A., 1968. Politics: "Would like to help overthrow capitalism."

ADDRESSES: Agent—Amy Rennert, 98 Maine St., Tiburon, CA 94920. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: Writer. U.S. Peace Corps, Malawi, Central Africa, teacher, 1968–70; John Brown Books, Culver City, CA, founder, 1992. Has worked as a reporter, television writer, English teacher, and curriculum designer.



(As John H. Shannon) The Orphan, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1972.

Courage, Norton (New York, NY), 1975.

Broken Codes, Pluto (London, England), 1985.

The Taking of the Waters, John Brown Books (Culver City, CA), 1994.


The Concrete River, John Brown Books (Salem, OR), 1996.

The Cracked Earth, Berkley (New York, NY), 1999.

The Poison Sky, Berkley (New York, NY), 2000.

The Orange Curtain, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2001.

Streets on Fire, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2002.

City of Strangers, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2003.

Terminal Island, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2004.

Dangerous Games, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: John Shannon once told CA that he hopes "to help bring back into American writing our analytic and intellectual heritage from Europe, which has been squeezed out … by the American obsession with 'dramatizing' and by our total immersion in one narrow ideology in the name of 'an end to ideology.'" Two important influences on him, "in quite different ways," have been the British writers Graham Greene and John Berger, "as well as … Lukacs, Gramsci, Mao, and Marx." His writing career has also been marked by what he called "a painstaking process of rediscovering the important democratic strands of American history deleted from our texts: history is people, popular movements, struggles, not a litany of dates and laws and other content-less factoids. (Characteristically, I had to live in Europe for some time to begin discovering this.)"

Shannon's novel The Taking of the Waters spans three generations in a family of left-leaning activists. Clay Trumbull's grandmother, Maxi, had been a journalist, and his father, Eugene Debs "Slim" Trumbull, was a labor organizer who dragged Clay to protest sites throughout his childhood. Clay chooses a career as an investigative journalist and pursues his stories and his causes with reckless abandon. To save Clay from himself, German writer Dieter Sachs comes to the United States to keep an eye on his unstable friend, but instead the two go off on an adventure, cruising the American Southwest in a big blue Cadillac as they search out injustice, adventure, women, and drink.

Shannon is more well known, however, for his series of crime novels set in the Los Angeles area. After debuting the private investigator Jack Liffey in The Concrete River, Shannon followed with other titles, including The Cracked Earth and The Poison Sky. The Orange Curtain, the fourth book in Shannon's series, features "wry humor and … [a] brilliant collection of bizarre characters," according to Library Journal contributor Rex Klett. Los Angeles-based Jack, divorced and a victim of the downsized aerospace industry, is now a seeker of lost children. In this case, he is looking for Phuong Minh, a beautiful Vietnamese American college student. Jack finds himself searching the Vietnamese communities of Orange County and Los Angeles' Little Saigon, where he is threatened by street gangs as he hunts for the serial killer who has ended Phuong's life. "Yet throughout, he retains his Marlowe-like decency and steadfastness and even his sense of humor," wrote Thomas Gaughan in Booklist.

In Streets on Fire, Jack is searching for Amilcar Davis, a young, black college student who is the adopted son of a famous civil rights activist in the 1960s. He disappeared along with his girlfriend, Sherry, who is white, after having an encounter with a racist biker gang two months earlier. As he searches for the couple, Jack encounters a wide range of outrageous characters, from white supremacists to black separatists and Christian fundamentalists. In the meantime, the entire city of Los Angeles is on edge as it braces for a flare-up following the choking death of a noted Black Muslim at the hands of the police. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted: "As always, Shannon's in there stretching the genre." Writing in Booklist, Gaughan commented that the "Liffey series remains firmly in the ascendancy" and added that the "latest is the best yet."

"I don't make it any secret—and I'm sure I've lost readers over it that my politics are on the left," the author told Keir Graff in an interview in Booklist. The author went on to note: "I will spend my life fighting racism, and all of my books are going to have some underlying antiracist theme. It's just the great moral dilemma of Western civilization as far as I'm concerned. And fighting particularly against anti-black racism is a moral imperative that's an important part of my life."

Jack's next intrigue, in City of Strangers, involves tracking down the daughter of his old college friend Dicky Auslander, a psychologist who only will give the case to Jack if he agrees to undergo treatment for his own disturbed psyche. Jack soon comes across a militant Islamic group and Mexican drug dealers as he crosses the border in search of Auslander's daughter. Meanwhile, the aging detective deals with a new love interest and his own daughter's insistence that she be his partner, all the while undergoing counseling. Graff, writing in Booklist, noted that the author "offers sage ruminations on belief, belonging, and responsibility." He also called Liffey "a terrific character." A Publishers Weekly contributor called the sixth book in the series "superb" and noted that the author provides "a sharply observed gallery of pompous adults and touching children." Rex Klett wrote that the novel is "a gripping work of wide appeal" in a review in the Library Journal.

In Terminal Island, Jack becomes involved with old boyhood friends as he searches for the missing child of one and begins to suspect the other of abusing his police authority. The plot revolves around the disappearance, which is linked to a wrecked boat and a destroyed manuscript. In all three cases, someone left behind a Japanese playing card with a cryptic message written on it. Jack's estranged father is involved, and the cards seem to have a connection to the Japanese-American internment of World War II. Wilda William, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author "displays a keen eye for the bizarre, colorful aspects of L.A. life and a mordant wit." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote: "The story climaxes with a highly original escape scene and an upside-down ending that simultaneously surprises and feels just right."

Dangerous Games begins with Jack's daughter getting shot by someone in a car full of teenagers. Believing the bullet was meant for him, Jack sets out to find the shooters as he also searchers for the missing Paiute niece of his lover, Gloria, a Los Angeles police officer. Once again, Jack enters the fringes of society as he traces the missing girl to the porn industry and sets out on a daring rescue. Booklist contributor Graff noted that in his novels, Shannon makes "readers examine their own attitudes and beliefs as much as the crimes on the page." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "Liffey … now seems entrenched in the meanest California streets." Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer called the book a "lively eighth series mystery."



Armchair Detective, summer, 1996, review of The Concrete River, p. 360.

Booklist, March 1, 2001, Thomas Gaughan, review of The Orange Curtain, p. 1231; March 15, 2002, Thomas Gaughan, review of Streets on Fire, p. 1217; March 15, 2003, Keir Graff, review of City of Strangers, p. 1280; May 1, 2004, Keir Graff, "Story behind the Story: John Shannon's Terminal Island: John Shannon's Jigsaw Picture of L.A.," interview with author, p. 1520; May 1, 2004, Keir Graff, review of Terminal Island, p. 1520; May 1, 2005, Keir Graff, review of Dangerous Games, p. 1538.

Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2001, review of The Orange Curtain, p. 298; March 1, 2002, review of Streets on Fire, p. 295; April 15, 2005, review of Dangerous Games, p. 455.

Library Journal, March 1, 2001, Rex Klett, review of The Orange Curtain, p. 132; May 1, 2003, Rex Klett, review of City of Strangers, p. 158; June 1, 2004, Wilda Williams, review of Terminal Island, p. 108.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 2, 1996, review of The Concrete River, p. 6.

Observer (London, England), January 25, 1976, review of Courage, p. 29.

Publishers Weekly, February 14, 1994, review of The Taking of the Waters, p. 85; March 11, 2002, review of Streets on Fire, p. 53; April 7, 2003, review of City of Strangers, p. 49; May 10, 2004, review of Terminal Island, p. 41; May 16, 2005, review of Dangerous Games, p. 43.

Times Literary Supplement, January 9, 1976, review of Courage, p. 42.

Wall Street Journal, April 10, 2001, Tom Nolan, review of The Orange Curtain, p. A20.


January Magazine Online, (April 18, 2006), Kevin Burton Smith, "I Love LA," profile of John Shannon.

John Shannon's Jack Liffey Mysteries Web site, (February 28, 2006).