John Shannon’s Tales of the West Coast Midlist

By Carmen Comment

What elevates some crime writers to exalted status while others fly under the radar? It’s a question Josh Getlin attempts to answer in his profile of John Shannon, an LA-based writer whose novels featuring private investigator Jack Liffey attempt to recount the city’s contemporary feel and landscape. “John’s goal, among other things, has been to write an alternative history of Los Angeles from the standpoint of groups and people who are excluded from the established discourse,” said social historian Mike Davis, who wrote “City of Quartz” and “Planet of Slums.” “This fits uneasily into people’s stereotypes of modern Los Angeles, and it’s what makes him so distinctive.”

But try finding Shannon’s books on shelves. Though he’s currently published by Pegasus, his backlist – in the form of early paperback originals published by Berkley Prime Crime and later, hardcover-only books from Carroll & Graf – are out of print. “It’s been a struggle,” said Shannon, who lives in Topanga Canyon. “If all my novels were in paperback, there would be this critical mass on the shelf. And I think that I’d be comfortable today instead of broke,” he added ruefully, his voice trailing off. “You know, I probably need to win an award or sell a movie. But I’m not stopping my writing. I’ve always had stories to tell.”

(Full disclosure: Getlin interviewed me on background for the piece.)