I blundered into crime fiction in an indirect way. I didn’t set out to read or write on the subject, though in hindsight I
suppose it was only natural I would move in that direction eventually. I’ve read true crime off and on since about 2000, so taking up crime fiction would be a logical step, at least in my mind.
It happened about four years or so ago when I began picking up books that took place in LA. My daughter lives in Santa Monica, and reading books set in LA was a roundabout way of feeling connected to her. Maybe it’s a strange one, I don’t know, but there it is.
The earliest one I remember reading was The Crosskiller by Marcel Montecino. It fit the natural progression because I’d already enjoyed reading serial killer fiction, such as Thomas Harris’s stories. The Crosskiller, as best I remember, is a dark book, but that’s only fitting, considering the subject matter. And since I find myself having a hard time remembering what it was like, I may have to look it up at the library.
I do remember that Crosskiller is true LA Noir, and it set me off on a search for more such novels. Though it’s not in the same vein, I soon found The Watchman by Robert Crais, and that one set me off in a whole new direction, especially after I read L.A. Requiem by the same author.
Somewhere in there I found L.A. Outlaws by T. Jefferson Parker.
Outlaws is the first of the six-book Charlie Hood series. Charlie Hood is a sheriff’s deputy with the LA County Sheriffs, and the central character in a series that concludes with 2013’s The Famous and the Dead (due out in April).
But Outlaws doesn’t open with Charlie Hood. It opens with one of the more intriguing characters—I can’t really classify her as protagonist or antagonist—I’ve ever read: Suzanne Jones/Allison Murrieta.
As Suzanne Jones, she is an eighth grade history teacher for the LA Unified School District. She has no record, not even any traffic tickets. As her alter ego Allison Murrieta, she is the descendent of Joaquin Murrieta, a California bandito who was killed in 1853. As you read the book, you discover that even Joaquin’s existence is in doubt, but the romanticism Allison/Suzanne holds for her legendary ancestor is beyond doubt.
It’s because of him that Suzanne becomes Allison, almost like the normal everyday person who is a superhero of some sort. As Allison, Suzanne is mostly fearless and a bit theatrical. She robs fast food joints—places she had to work to get through college—and steals cars for export. And she keeps what is supposed to Joaquin’s head in a jar. When she robs someone, whether it be boosting a car or holding up a KFC, she leaves a business card that reads, You’ve been robbed by Allison Murrieta. In a town that lives on fame, she’s become something of a celebrity.
Allison gets wind of a deal that’s about to go down at a body shop between Barry Cohen, a young diamond district broker with a gambling addiction, and the Asian Boyz street gang. Cohen is into them for seventy-five grand, and he’s going to pay them with four hundred fifty thousand dollars’ (retail) of gem-cut loose diamonds. At street prices, that’ll bring about forty-five thousand, which means Cohen is cheating the Boyz.
What no one realizes is that Cohen is cutting someone else into the deal: MS-13, the infamous Mara Salvatrucha, the
world’s most dangerous street gang. When Allison gets to the site of the meet, an auto body shop called Miracle Auto Body, it appears the Maras crashed the party and there was a shootout. But the Boyz turned out to be tougher than the Maras thought. Mutual destruction. Everyone’s dead, including Barry.
Allison takes the diamonds, thinking she can fence them, but it turns out to be a major mistake, because now she’s being hunted by Lupercio, a Mara OG, one of the founding members, who’s so badass that he had a falling out with the gang and killed so many of their leaders—possible as many as sixteen and definitely twelve—that the gang made a truce with him: stop killing our leaders and we’ll let you live.
Lupercio works for a man known only as The Bull, and The Bull had an interest in these diamonds. The Bull has an interest in a good chunk of the illegal goods that move through LA and are exported at the Ports of LA and Long Beach.
I won’t go any further into the story than that. The Allison/Suzanne scenes are told first person, present tense, while Hood’s are told third person, past tense. It’s a little jarring at first, but you get used to it pretty quick. There’s a certain rhythm to it, and the misconceptions on both sides are well done.
L.A. Outlaws spurred me to read other of Mr. Parker’s books. I would recommend The Triggerman’s Dance especially. It’s a wonderful novel, with a serial killer who’s among the creepiest I’ve ever read, Hannibal Lecter included. But the Charlie Hood series has captured my attention, as it deals with Mexican drug cartels and the so-called Iron River of weapons flowing south across the border. The story evolves and introduces some interesting characters, one of which has an almost supernatural feel to him, so I’m curious to see how Mr. Parker resolves everything.
Outlaws is still the best of the series—unless, of course, the concluding novel tops it—and this is my second time reading it. So, obviously, I highly recommend it. In fact, my daughter loves L.A. Outlaws but really doesn’t care for the rest of the books in the series.
So if you’re looking for some good LA crime fiction, go out and get L.A. Outlaws. You won’t regret it.