DEAD FOLKS by Jon A. Jackson

Book Reviews
DEAD FOLKS by Jon A. Jackson
Aug 1, 1996, 19:45


DEAD FOLKS by Jon A. Jackson; Grove/Atlantic, 1996

Critics have been predicting breakout success for crime novelist John A. Jackson since his debut, The Blind Pig. All of Jackson's books—there are now six of them—feature Detroit cop Sergeant Fang Mulheisen, and all of them are a step above the pack.

The new one, Dead Folks, takes Mulheisen to Salt Lake City and its environs as the cop tracks his old nemesis, ace freelance hitman Joe Service, who has become an increasingly more engaging fixture of the series as it has progressed. Actually, Service is at the center of Dead Folks, fleeing Mulheisen, the Mob, a deadly hitwoman, and some Tongan giants.

I'm a Jackson fan, but the author is showing signs of fatigue and maybe boredom with his two latest books. Dead Folks is lacking in the suspense department, partly because it's set in Salt Lake, hardly a pulse-pounding center of urban mayhem. Jackson compensates with some satisfying action set pieces and a few uncharacteristically graphic, nearly clinical scenes of sex. The climax of the book delivers, and the prose always propels the reader forward, so it's worth it to stick with this to the end.

Jackson has been compared, wrongly, to Elmore Leonard and James Crumley. In fact, the author whose style he emulates, and nearly replicates, is the late and never-topped Charles Willeford. The casual recounting of extreme violence, the seemingly pointless asides that reveal character, the absurdist detailing of day-to-day existence, are all there. And in the grizzled, close-to-burnout character of Mulheisen, Jackson has copied, almost to the letter, Willeford's most beloved creation, grizzled and close-to-burnout Miami cop Hoke Moseley. (Here's the tip-off—Mulheisen's nickname, “Fang,” refers to the rather unusual look of his teeth; Moseley's own teeth problems are infamous among fans.)

I don't know if Jackson will ever “break out.” And I truly don't think it matters. Check out his books. My favorites are Grootka and Hit on the House. The Blind Pig is where to start.

-George Pelecanos

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