This Wicked World

This Wicked World, by first-time novelist Richard Lange, is an above-average thriller that makes good use of some Southern California locations, namely Hollywood and the desert around Twenty-Nine Palms. The protagonist is Jimmy Boone, a bartender at a tourist trap on Hollywood Boulevard, near the Chinese Theater, an area I've become well-acquainted with on a couple of trips to L.A., and is a location ripe for literary plundering. Those guys who dress up like movie characters and loiter around the Chinese Theater could generate volumes, I imagine.

But this book is more concerned with matters even seedier. Boone is an ex-con with a white knight streak. Once a successful bodyguard, he ended up in the can for beating up a guy he thought was molesting a little girl. When he helps out the bouncer at the bar, who moonlights as a private eye, he gets caught up in finding out why an immigrant died on an L.A. bus, with infected dog-bite wounds.

He follows some clues that lead him into the sordid world of dog-fighting, and to the compound of a criminal called Taggert. In separate chapters we follow Taggert, a fully-realized creation. In many books of this type criminals are portrayed as mentally deficient, and there are some of those here, but Taggert is not. He's a guy who escaped the Kentucky coal mines, did some hard time in prison, and now enjoys a kind of baronial existence in the California desert. He wants to make one last big score so he can retire, which, as we all know, never is allowed to happen in books or movies.

The action is taut and suspenseful, even though we may question Boone's actions, especially when he heads out to Taggert's place unarmed. To be fair, we know about Taggert and he doesn't, which makes for a kind "don't do that!" reading between our fingers. The final showdown is set in a rainstorm in a ghost town, which should interest film directors looking for excellent source material.

I have no idea if Lange intends to make Jimmy Boone a recurring character, but I would be up for revisiting him.


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