OJ’s Knife by John Gibson

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OJ's Knife by John Gibson front cover

OJ’s Knife is a fast-paced and entertaining speculative pulp novel in the Mickey Judge series. It’s based on a fictional hunt for the weapon that killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman in 1994, crimes for which Nicole’s husband, the American Football legend and film star OJ Simpson, stood trial and was eventually acquitted. The complexities of the trial and Simpson’s guilt are not the novel’s concern. However, the prosecution accused OJ Simpson of dumping the murder weapon after carrying out the slaying. That knife was never found. What is known is that shortly before the discovery of the two bodies OJ took a flight from LAX to Chicago and author John Gibson’s story begins at the airport as Simpson arrives.  

It’s 12 June, 1994. OJ is late for his flight but it doesn’t stop him signing autographs for the baggage staff who got a whiff he was coming and came out to see the legend as he unpacks his bags from the rented limo. He even has his golf clubs with him. As he heads to the flight there’s a small backpack left leaning against a trash can, perhaps it’s his. Shortly after Simpson goes inside a garbage truck empties the trash and takes the backpack too. As the truck moves off two of the baggage men, Lummie and Garden, realise the truck may have taken a bag belonging to Simpson. They chase the truck and retrieve it. Simpson is a hero, especially to the black community, so they plan to find a way to get the bag back to him. A chance to really meet their hero. That’s where things start getting complicated.

The murders are uncovered and when that’s connected to OJ Simpson it becomes a nationwide story. Lummie and Garden are sure the police think Simpson is guilty, a white woman dies – it has to be her black husband that did it, so they’re reluctant to come forward. OJ denies the killing but nonetheless goes on the run.

Reporter Mickey Judge is the man on the spot, the lead for NBC but soon the big guys from corporate will come in and bump him off the story. That happens when the famous freeway car chase occurs and Simpson is cornered by a posse of police cruisers. Meanwhile, Lummie and Garden still have the bag and speculation that it contains the bloody knife is spreading. They need to find someone who can get the bag back to OJ and naturally they make all the wrong choices.

This leads them to Gary Minasian and his Armenian gang boss who recognises the value of that knife – a million easy, and the gang want their cut. That’s when the first body falls. The problem is the dead man Marcus Blake is the brother of Julius ‘Jumbo’ Caesar Blake, budding music titan and drug dealer. He not only wants the knife, he wants revenge. Pulled from the TV coverage, Mickey Judge turns PI to investigate the rumours of the knife. It’s not long before things are well out of hand.

This is a gritty noir story with more than a touch of humour. It’s also an authentic and unflattering portrait of LA’s underbelly and a glimpse of the poor race relations and the polarisation that the Simpson case brought out between the white, black and Latino communities. Regardless of culpability, some black people assumed Simpson was a victim of the prejudice of the police, while white people assumed he must be guilty because of his colour. It was an ugly time and Gibson’s tale of gangsters, music moguls and ordinary people caught up in the maelstrom reflect that. The knife itself becomes almost a McGuffin as greed will out and that leads to misunderstanding, betrayal and murder.

OJ’s Knife is an inventive tale, a wry comment on celebrity and it weaves fiction into real history very well. Gibson was a TV journalist so he knows whereof he speaks. Gibson’s prose is lean and his style propulsive, this is a quick and easy read.

Also see A Man Named Doll by Jonathan Ames, and for the current master of all things LA check out Michael Connelly’s novels.

Stark House Press

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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