I just finished Ken Kuhlken's mystery, The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles, and thoroughly enjoyed it! I was transported to L.A. (an area where I grew up) in the 1920's. The scenes, street names, places, and personages are authentic and the characters come off real and flawed, varied and interesting. The strong moral sense of love and loyalty that pervades those on the protagonist's side wonderfully balances the darker side of L.A.'s secrets and history, making this an easier book to read than many crime mysteries dealing with dark issues of prejudice, mobsters and corruption. I highly recommend this well-written novel that kept me turning pages until 5:30 a.m.!
I purchased THE BIGGEST LIAR IN LOS ANGELES because it was the "first" installment, taking the reader back to the protagonist's (Tom Hickey) early days to solve what becomes his first mystery. Never having read any of the other books in the "California Century Novels" series, I wasn't sure what to expect. And never having been to California, I really didn't know what would be normal, whatever normal might be in California. So, with my stereotypical views intact and at play, albeit from a modern, 20th and 21st century paradigm, I dove headlong into this mystery.
I was immediately transported back to 1926 Los Angeles. I was amazed to find that 1926 southern California was not so different than any other southern respository of human prejudice and spiritual degradation that existed in those days. The scenes were real. The descriptions tight and meaningful without becoming verbose and tedious. The dialogue was crisp, and I could hear the accents belt out their language from perspectives about as numerous as the characters.
If you're looking for a good, solid, sleuth type of mystery set somewhere other than in the usual suspects: like all those printed today depicting modernity; or those set way back in historical settings of old like the wild west; or those depicting more famous personages like Mr. Holmes or Sam Spade, then I think you'll find Tom Hickey, a young man who not only takes care of his 16-year-old sister in the absence of parents but also tries to set a horrible wrong right, a character for which you can get behind and root on to victory.
And, of course, if you are a USC Trojan fan, then you have to adore Tom Hickey. He's an alum.
After VAGABOND VIRGINS two years ago, Kuhlken's sixth installment of the California Century series is a tricked-out time machine that takes amateur PI Tom Hickey back to the Roaring Twenties of his youth, making this chronologically the first of Hickey's solved investigations. Born at the time of the Wrights' first flight, Hickey still rejoices in the glory of being a USC football hero.
Taking younger sister Florence away from the clutches of abusive mother Milly at age 16 six years previously, Hickey is forced into being an overachiever. His day job of delivering meat to markets is jeopardized, when he investigates the apparent lynching of a black friend who had been part of a ragtime band in which Hickey played a licorice stick. Idyllic 1926 Los Angeles portrayed in silent films does not appear to be a place of racial inequality but the Ku Klux Klan and crooked cops are suspected by Hickey, who investigates powers-that-be in city hall. Hickey methodically analyzes information and tracks down leads, rules out suspects and encounters sinister characters that make his dysfunctional family seem normal.
Media moguls William Randolph Hearst and Harry Chandler don't mention in their papers talented jazz musician Frank Gaines dangling from the "hanging tree" in Echo Park near Hollywood. Hickey confronts Hearst who is romantically involved with film legend Marion Davies, a lookalike for mom Milly, who works as a seamstress at Universal Studios. There is a cover-up, no mention of his friend's death at the Hall of Records. Hickey questions L.A.'s liars, those who endeavor to keep him from uncovering the truth. As gentle discouragement, Hickey is told, "This colored fella, he's gone for a holiday. [Y]ou're a talented youngster, with a football ... But you're no policeman." When dissuasion fails, threats and beatings "convinced him football was a rather gentle sport."
Historical and fictional characters seamlessly intertwine, to make Kuhlken's style seem more like journalism. After mysteriously vanishing, famed evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson returns to over-the-top Angelus Temple to save the souls of sinners, in a time of speakeasies and bathtub gin. Prohibition. When thoroughly modern Milly mimics McPherson's disappearing act, "the pastor came to believe Milly got filled by a spirit that wasn't so Holy." Not really missing Milly, Hickey walks around La Brea Tar Pits, "wondering how many human bones might be in there with the tigers and mastodons." He questions if McPherson "was honest or was herself the biggest liar in Los Angeles."