Big Island, LA connects the dots between a heist gone wrong at a police shooting range and corporate greed and political corruption, leaving a former combat marine and an agoraphobic crime reporter to sort out the mystery. It’s a new crime novel from Boston Teran – a writer whose true identity is unknown. Teran began writing crime fiction in 1999, with books such as the CWA Dagger winning God is a Bullet, before moving towards historical fiction. Big Island, LA, sees a return to noir territory.
Ana Ride, honourably discharged from the marines with a silver star for valour but missing a foot, now earns a living as a private soldier in that legal grey area that mercenaries often have to navigate. Having finished her last contract – a snatch job in Mexico – she’s returned to LA, where she lives next door to her father, Elias, an army and police veteran with whom she has an ambivalent relationship. Ana blames her father for years of domestic abuse towards her mother and for her mother’s early death from cancer. Yet families are complicated, as is love, and Ana agrees to help one of her father’s old colleagues.
The Los Angeles Police Revolver and Athletic Club gun shop has been broken into and a deadly arsenal stolen. During their escape through Elysian Park, the culprits killed a homeless person. The police suspect an inside job and suspicion has fallen on one of Elias’s old colleagues, Moe Orteig. After losing his job with the police for an unauthorised shooting, Orteig worked at the shooting club for a few years before retiring.
The police see an easy solution to the robbery homicide. Orteig was familiar with the security at the club so he had the means. And, he had a grudge against the force – hence a motive.
The robbery was in fact an inside job carried out by Andres, handyman at the shooting club, and Luis Velez, a police officer and outsider on the force as a result of his heritage. Andres approached Velez with the job, but later on Velez has to kill him to prevent a double cross. Then Velez is left with the weapons but no contact to sell them on to. He begins to realise, too late, how much he is in the dark about the people behind the robbery.
This is a complicated story which involves the attempted smearing of an assemblyperson campaigning to stop a property development firm from going back on their word. For decades, the inhabitants of an area now due for gentrification have been promised preferential consideration when the land is redeveloped. Now that the corridor is ready, big business doesn’t want to keep its part of the bargain. Velez’s estranged wife lives in the 710 corridor and is a key figure in the residents’ rights movement.
There are a lot of plot points to a fairly short novel, something which suits the author’s style very well. Teran’s writing has a lyrical, almost poetic quality to it, which can be a little confusing at times and is perhaps occasionally overwrought, but which separates and elevates this thriller from the pack. I feel James Lee Burke would be a good comparison, except Burke’s religious themes are replaced here with concerns about corruption and its effects on working people.
Ana, meanwhile, just beats the police to Orteig’s house. When she leaves, with a box of evidence including a link to the infamous reporter known as Landshark, she doesn’t get away cleanly. She’s spotted by a police detective and knows that if she becomes a person of interest in the robbery, secrets from her recent past will be dug up. Now a columnist and podcaster, the agoraphobic Landshark was the protagonist in Teran’s second novel, Never Count Out the Dead.
Teran ties it all together, even if Landshark is somewhat of a ghost in the machine, in a satisfying manner. But it’s not the mystery or the action, no matter how well done, but the author’s feverish prose which makes Big Island, LA so memorable.
High Top Publishing
CFL Rating: 4 Stars
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