Jack Liffey, divorced, downsized from the aerospace industry, living with the zaftig Marlena, and skilled at reclaiming lost kids and filling Philip Marlowe’s noble shoes, agrees to meet Minh Trac, whose daughter Phuong has been missing for a week. But he’s barely out the door when the Quan Sats, a Vietnamese gang of young toughs, beat him up. Next, Liffey faces pidgin-English death threats thrust under his windshield wiper. Phuong’s business project—turning the El Toro defense base into a regional airport—has plenty of local opposition, but none that her mentor, Saigon B-girl–turned–entrepreneur Tien Nguyen, deems murderous. Tien brokers a peace treaty between the Quan Sats and Liffey, tempts Liffey into cheating on Marlena, and becomes his co-hostage when lonely, loony, homicidal Billy Gudger, a gofer at MediaPros, where Phuong filmed an ad, handcuffs them to his sofa, which still shows stains from the murder of his obese mom, now squished into the family deep-freeze. The cops, meanwhile, turn up several bodies, including Phuong’s. But it’s left to the Quan Sats, searching for gold bars, to effect a rescue of Tien and Liffey, who have been chased through sagebrush, cactus, and rain back to wacky Billy’s place.
Shannon’s dead-on characterizations, his ear for dialogue, his picturesque description of Orange County’s Vietnamese community, and his wry touches (a p.i. named Marlowe shared his cases with Chandler) almost make you forgive his overly pared-down plot. A typically offbeat addition to the Liffey series (The Poison Sky, etc., not reviewed).