Thursday, November 3, 2011
During the closing days of the Rodney King trial, Murphy's law practice is sold to entrepreneur and sometime acquaintance Zach Petrovitch. Before the deal is finalized, Zach's wife Ingrid -- an old flame of Mickey's, naturally -- asks for his help because she says her life is in danger. Is it? Mickey can't be sure. He's also not sure about his client, fading leading man Budd Byron, who's asked him to get a gun but not through the official channels; about his law partner's dealings with a seedy evangelist; about his ex-wife who alternates between asking him for more money and threatening suicide; about some clients whose financial empire is looking a little shaky, and so on. Things will come to a head in the riots that follow the "not guilty" verdict given against the officers accused of beating King.
Mickey narrates in a kind of 1940s tough-guy-on-wry patter. Even though the book is set in sunny 1990s Los Angeles it's not hard to picture it in black-and-white and filled with men wearing fedoras. There's some serious threatening and a little mayhem going on even before the riots, but the overall tone is snappy with the same kind of dry wit Deighton used in his Bernard Samson novels. Mickey lacks Samson's glum pessimism, perhaps a feature of the Los Angeles setting compared with Samson's dreary London and Berlin stages. The plot sometimes twists back on itself a little too hard, leaving us wondering for a moment just what's going on, but overall it's a fun path to follow.
Deighton would follow Violent Ward with the concluding trilogy of Bernard Samson novels, and some speculated that he might continue to write about Mickey Murphy and his classic Cadillac as they wove through the bizarre mix of reality and unreality of southern California. But sequels never materialized and the author seems more or less retired at 82, so this book remains Mickey's only chronicle.