That’s a lesson Will Magowan actually seemed to learn after his brief but intense stint as the Chief of Police of Haydenville, California in author Ken Mercer’s debut, Slow Fire. And though he’s out of a job in law enforcement in East on Sunset, Magowan is back in his hometown of L.A. and things finally seem to be heading in the right direction.
He’s kicked his drinking problem, is back with his wife, who’s pregnant, and has landed a job with security for the Dodgers. Of course, you don’t have to go looking for problems for them to find you, and Mercer throws a hell of a roadblock in Magowan’s path to happiness in the form of ex-con Erik Crandall.
Crandall, a small time dealer whom Magowan sent to prison during his time as a Narcotics Detective in the LAPD, is fresh out of the joint and confronts Magowan with the accusation that Magowan stole nearly a pound of fentanyl from Crandall during his arrest. Now he either wants it back or the cash equivalent… half a million dollars.
Problem is, Magowan spent his last bit of time with the LAPD in a drug induced haze and he’s actually a little fuzzy on exactly how the bust of Crandall went down. Knowing that he can’t very well tell Crandall that, and that he doesn’t have half a million dollars lying around in any event, Magowan blows Crandall off, warning him not to come around again. That goes over about as well as you’d expect it to, and with that the snowball that is East on Sunset is sent plunging on its way downhill.
Though he initially tries to do the right thing by going to the police, the cloud Magowan left the department under still follows him, making those on the force less than enthusiastic about going out of their way for him. It certainly doesn’t help matters when Magowan meets resistance from his wife about the best way to handle the situation after things take a serious turn for the worse. But it’s not until Magowan actually finds himself on the wrong side of the law after one of his encounters with Crandall that he finally realizes the only way he can get out from under the avalanche of trouble Crandall’s brought down on him is to figure out what really happened to the drugs all those years ago.
Often there’s concern of a letdown with the follow up when an author comes out of the gate as strongly with their debut as Mercer did with Slow Fire, but let me assure you that not only has the sophomore slump been avoided, Mercer has actually raised the stakes. While Slow Fire unfolded with a slow burn, East on Sunset‘s fuse is short, the action exploding off the pages in a never-ending series of escalating confrontations between Crandall and the Magowans. I was wondering how Mercer was going to top the ice cold menace of villain Frank Carver from Slow Fire, but the fiery hot Erik Crandall is one seriously scary dude. His initially short prison term having been extended when he killed another inmate, the once skinny punk spent his prison time shooting steroids and pumping iron. Now a freakishly large human whose shaved head has two disturbingly realistic eyes tattooed on the back of it, Crandall is truly a living, breathing nightmare.
Yet despite all the action, Mercer hasn’t lost what made Slow Fire such a strong debut, the wonderful attention to character detail and development. The emotions the Magowans go through are pitch perfect as they move from indignation to anger to fear. The intra-marital tension between Will and Laurie is particularly well developed – and frustratingly real – as he tries to persuade her of what he believes is the proper course of action, while she holds firmly to her ideals and convictions in the face of the ever increasing threat level. So adept is Mercer at delving into his characters, he actually manages to bring a (small) measure of sympathy to Crandall by allowing the reader glimpses into his head at the simplistic but to him perfectly reasonable logic driving his actions. Yes, Mercer has once again delivered a taut, seamless, fabulously entertaining work of crime fiction.
If you’re looking for a smoking hot read this summer, take an East on Sunset on your way to the beach or pool. You won’t regret it. — EAW
East on Sunset is available from Minotaur Books (ISBN: 978-0312558376).