Back Door to L.A. by Jack Clark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I received a free advanced copy of this from the author. I also broke one of my own reviewing rules in doing so because if you’ve ever sent me a message or a friend request asking me to read your self-published book then you probably can’t actually see this right now on Goodreads because I’ve already blocked you. (Hey, I warned you. Try reading someone’s profile before you spam them next time.) However, I really liked Jack Clark’s Nobody's Angel so this wasn’t uncharted waters, and it turned out to be one of those times where I don’t regret making an exception.
Eddie Miles is a Chicago cab driver with an 18 year old daughter, Laura, he hasn’t seen in years after he gave up custody rightsduring the divorce with her mother, and they moved to California. When Laura shows up unexpectedly Eddie is so delighted that he brushes off hints that she might be in some kind of trouble. Suddenly Laura vanishes in a very troubling way, and Eddie fears that her step-father, a shady ex-cop from LA, might have been involved. When the Chicago police don’t think there’s enough evidence to warrant an investigation Eddie starts hunting for Laura which means talking to his ex-wife and dealing with their unresolved issues.
This is technically a sequel to Nobody’s Angel although you don’t need to have read it to enjoy this one, and like that one it’s kind of hard to pin down the appeal of the books. This has elements of a mystery crime thriller with a missing daughter, but Eddie Miles doesn’t have the very particular set of skills of someone like Liam Neeson in Taken so this isn’t a revenge driven action novel. Eddie’s also not a good detective because he has to hire a private investigator to find information and give him advice so this isn’t really a traditional mystery either.
To be frank, Eddie is a loser. He’s a guy who lost his wife and kid to self-pity and booze, and then he was content to spend almost every waking moment behind the wheel of a cab. He lives in a dump even though he’s made a small fortune by working constantly, and he has no other interests or hobbies and seems to spend most of his time brooding about how the steady decline of the working class has transformed Chicago into a city of only the rich and desperately poor. Eddie is also so willfully oblivious to modern technology that he doesn’t have a computer and tries to do things like rent a car or book a flight over the phone rather than on-line.
But losers make for great noir characters, and that’s what Eddie is. He’s a guy built for earlier times when he could have gone to work with a lunch pail and thermos, and while he’s not stupid, just kind of simple and blunt, he’s cursed with enough self-awareness to realize that he’s bumping his head against his own limitations. That’s what makes him quietly tragic, and it makes the story of him trying to save the one thing in his life he created pretty compelling.
Clark, a cab driver himself, also fills both books about the job, and the interactions with passengers provide the opportunity to develop Eddie’s world view which, of course, is seen through a windshield. One minor thing had me scratching my head because although the book is filled with details about being a cab driver in Chicago there is never once a mention of how Uber or other ride-sharing services which seems odd considering how much of Eddie’s thoughts are about comparing the way things used to be against the world today.*
* Update - I heard from the author about this point, and he explained that he'd actually written this book a few years back before Uber became a thing which explains why it's never addressed.
This is a solid shot of noir told in a tight 250 pages that I liked so much that I’ve got an urge to track down more of Jack Clark’s work as well as re-read Nobody’s Angel.
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