EAST ON SUNSET is Ken Mercer's much-anticipated sequel to SLOW FIRE, which introduced former L.A. cop Will Magowan to the annals of noir crime fiction. It brings Magowan back to his familiar Los Angeles environs, though a step or three down from where he had been career-wise. Magowan and his wife Laurie, recently reconciled and very pregnant, are awaiting the birth of their child and trying to put their past behind them. Magowan is underemployed and overqualified, but dealing with it when his past life comes back to haunt him in a totally unexpected manner.
EAST ON SUNSET is one of those dark tales that would have made a fine paperback novel in the late 1950s and makes just as fine a hardcover in the second decade of the 21st century.
Magowan's immediate opposite in EAST ON SUNSET is Erik Crandall, a drug dealer whom Magowan arrested some years before. Crandall used his prison time --- extended as a result of his murder of a fellow inmate --- to become a 'roid monster. Newly released and sporting an unnatural set of muscles and a bizarre, memorable tattoo, Crandall is set on looking up Magowan and getting his due. Crandall is convinced that Magowan absconded with the drugs that Crandall was carrying at the time of his arrest, and subsequently sold them for their street value, somewhere in the mid-six figures. Magowan has (almost) no idea what Crandall is talking about, but Crandall doesn't want to hear it. He begins hassling Magowan at his job and at home, and approaching Laurie as well.
Matters begin to escalate, in no small part due to Crandall's steroid abuse, which exacerbates the freakishness of his appearance as well as his volatile and unpredictable behavior. Magowan's former partner gets into the mix, with disastrous results, and Magowan can see that there is no easy fix. The key to what Crandall wants may exist in a small notebook in Magowan's possession, filled with coded notations. Magowan is in a quandary, though. The very people who should be most interested in his dilemma with Crandall, and in the notebook, don't seem to be at all. When a frustrated Magowan takes matters into his own hands, he suddenly finds that he is on the wrong end of police attention and risks losing everything he has worked so hard to regain.
Crandall provides an out-of-control variable to the equation. Motivated by equal parts revenge and greed, Crandall blames Magowan for everything that has happened to him. But when Crandall gets the idea to pressure Magowan by attacking where he lives, all bets are off, with Magowan setting up a trap that, if all goes well, will get Crandall off his back and out of his life forever. Of course, nothing ever goes according to plan. Or does it? Mercer pulls enough twists and turns to qualify for an amusement park ride --- and a wild, dangerous one it is.
EAST ON SUNSET is one of those dark tales that would have made a fine paperback novel in the late 1950s and makes just as fine a hardcover in the second decade of the 21st century. Magowan is not entirely a sympathetic character --- no one is, exactly, except for his unborn son --- and Crandall is not entirely wrong, though he is certainly not someone to cheer for, either. Add a number of heart-stopping scenes --- I actually had to stop reading at one point because I didn't want to know what happened next --- and you have another character and author to add to your must-read list of favorites.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 26, 2011