Geschrieben am 1. Dezember 2022 von für Crimemag, CrimeMag Dezember 2022

Nick Kolakowski: Smoking Gun (13) – Jordan Harper

Jordan Harper’s One-Two Punch of Crime Fiction Deserves a Wide Audience

            In June 2017, Ecco/HarperCollins released Jordan Harper’s “She Rides Shotgun.” The novel follows an 11-year-old girl, Polly, and her father, Nate, who’s fresh out of jail after a long stint for doing very bad things. The two make their way across the American West, relentlessly pursued by a murderous gang known as Aryan Steel. The novel won an Edgar Award for Best Debut Novel, and over the years it gained a cult following among crime writers, passed around and cited as an example of how to write compelling, ultra-gritty noir.

            Now Harper’s back with two new novels—a one-two punch of spectacular crime fiction: “The Last King of California” and “Everybody Knows.” The former is a fast-paced book that packs quite a bit of plot into its 320 pages. Teenage Luke drops out of college and comes home to California, where he shacks up with The Combine, a gang founded by his father (who’s in prison for murder) and run by his uncle. Another gang encroaches on The Combine’s turf, setting off a hurricane of fire and blood. The plot is reminiscent of “Seven Samurai” and any number of gang thrillers, but Harper’s use of language is powerful enough to forge the narrative into something that feels new.

            In other words, this isn’t just pulp: midway through the book, Luke attends a heavy metal concert that sends him into a transcendent state. The descriptions of music and its impact on the soul are perhaps the most incredible since Rafi Zabor’s riffs on jazz in the PEN-Faulker Award-winning (but criminally underread) “The Bear Comes Home” back in the 1990s. The violence, when it comes, is likewise crunchy—Harper takes care to show how even surviving a gunfight or beating can still leave vicious psychic wounds.   

            The fact that “The Last King of California” is only being published in the UK, with no US release on the horizon, is a minor crime against art, but fortunately we live in an era where UK booksellers will ship a book to America for a relatively small fee.

            The second book, “Everybody Knows,” is a sprawling crime epic reminiscent of James Ellroy’s older novels such as “The Black Dahlia” and “L.A. Confidential.” Publicist-to-the-stars Mae Pruett wants to know who gunned down her boss in front of a luxury hotel, a quest that will take her into the grittier portions of L.A.’s fabled underbelly. It’s one of those sprawling L.A. novels, filled with many characters with their own murky agendas, but Harper’s brilliant at keeping the pace moving and the plot in focus. 

            With his three novels, Harper has crafted a unique vision of California as dusty, fiery, and filled with damaged souls. It’s closer to Hell than the palm tree-lined paradise you see in postcards. And while other writers have been working similar veins of California noir for decades, Harper does so with a literary bent that’s not too heavy—the writing is beautiful, and the digressions into characters’ inner lives are insightful, but none of it weighs down the narrative. Harper might have a reputation as a crime writer’s crime writer, but he deserves mainstream stardom. 

Nick Kolakowski is the author of „Maxine Unleashes Doomsday“ and „Boise Longpig Hunting Club“ as well as the Love & Bullets trilogy of novellas. His noir fiction has appeared in Tough, ThugLit, Mystery Tribune, Plots With Guns, and various anthologies. Brandnew: his „Payback is Forever“ (Shotgun Honey 2022), inspired clearly by the novels of Richard Stark. Our review here (in German). – Just out: Hell of a Mess. A Love & Bullets Hookup.

Nick Kolakowski, geboren 1980, aufgewachsen in Washington. D.C., hat Geschichte in Chicago studiert. Er schreibt Romane, Kurzgeschichten, Lyrik und Essays, viele davon über Crime Fiction und verwandte Themen. Seine Texte erscheinen u. a. in der Washington Post, in Shotgun Honey, North American Review, The Evergreen Review, Rust & Months. Kolakowski lebt in New York City. Eine Besprechung des von Parker inspirierten „Payback is Forever“ in unseren Bloody Chops.

Bei Suhrkamp auf Deutsch: Love & Bullets.
His essays with us

His column „Gunsmoke“ with us: 
‘True Detective’ Season 2: Was It Better Than We All Thought?
From ‘Touch of Evil’ to ‘True Detective,’ Long Shots are Crime Films’ Secret Weapon
Michael Mann, again: What Michael Mann Teaches Us About Enduring Crime Fiction
„Heat 2“ – How Do You Craft a Sequel to a Masterpiece?
4 Ways Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Novel Stands Out From the Film.
On „Heat“: Manhunter Takes Down Thief: How Michael Mann’s Early Career Led to ‘Heat’
The Most Honest Nihilism – on „The Way of the Gun“
No, Time to Die – The latest James Bond movie digs into the fatalism at the iconic spy’s core.
Cormac McCarthy’s Overlooked Masterpiece? – „The Councelor“
Nightmare Alley“ – How Guillermo del Toro’s Film Alters a Masterpiece Noir Novel
David Cronenberg – The Carnal Crime of “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”
With Parker, Donald E. Westlake Pulled Off Crime Fiction’s Most Spectacular Magic Trick
Guy Ritchie’s Return to Crime Films is Worth Watching