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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Los Angeles has always been a fertile setting for some of humanity's greatest stories of evil, from the dark novels of James Ellroy to the truly noir tales of Raymond Chandler. Now bestselling author Stephen J. Cannell ponders the seamy side of the City of Angels with his new pressure cooker, Riding the Snake. Cannell, who is known mainly as the creator-writer of a ton of television dramas, including "The A-Team," "Hunter," and "The Rockford Files," is also making a name for himself in thriller fiction with such bestsellers as King Con, The Final Victim, and The Plan already under his belt. Riding the Snake is a ten-pointer on the Richter scale that twists, turns, and slides like a wily and venomous rattler.
Even though it's definitely an L.A. book, Riding the Snake also delves into international terror. The story opens in China with Willy Wo Lap Ling, a dreaded leader of Hong Kong's notorious criminal Triad. Willy needs two new kidneys badly; without them he will surely die. In an attempt to buy a few more years, he makes a deal with the devil — he'll resume his nefarious activities in the West in exchange for the much-needed organ transplant. Willy is in charge of undermining Western society by running drugs and guns and encouraging endemic poverty through the welfare state of the U.S.; his goal just may be to bring President Clinton and the American government to its knees.
The brutality of Cannell's story hits us square in the face when we see that Willy's kidney transplant comes from anunwillingstudent dissident in Beijing. Rejuvenated after the operation, Willy leaves for the States on his own twisted sacred mission on behalf of the dark Triad.
Meanwhile, Wheeler Cassidy is having a hell of a life, soaking it up among the rich and famous of Bel Air. Handsome, in his late 30s, a bit of a swordsman (but always with someone else's wife), he has it all: charm, looks, money, and a rather unattractive alcoholic streak. The trust-fund, black-sheep baby of a megarich family, his idea of fun is a morning on the golf course and an afternoon with a bottle of his favorite booze in one hand and a country-club beauty in the other. But when his younger brother, Prescott, dies, Wheeler's world comes crashing down around him.
Prescott was the real achiever in the family and became a big-shot lawyer who did everything right, apparently. Even when he was dying, he said his proper good-byes and left one last memo for his secretary, Angie Wong, to transcribe. When Wheeler's mother bemoans the loss of her favorite son, Wheeler himself wonders why Pres, who was near-perfect, died of a heart attack while he, the bad seed, is allowed to continue living in self-indulgent limbo.
But when Wheeler heads down to the middle-class suburb of Torrance to check on Angie Wong, he finds a real horror show. Angie has been murdered in what can only be politely called the worst series of paper cuts in history. Even worse than her torturous death is something that will later be found — someone planted a message within her body.
This is where Cannell's story really takes off, for the most extraordinary and interesting cop in the history of the LAPD just happens to be working this murder case. Her name is Tanisha "Tisha" Williams, a young woman who has lifted herself out of gangland Los Angeles after watching rival gangs kill her six-year-old sister. Since that tragic day, Tisha excelled in her major (criminology) and now excels on the police force, mostly because she truly believes in upholding the law. Unfortunately, the LAPD around her is pretty racist and misogynistic, so nothing has come easy for Tisha. Still, in staking out the Asian neighborhoods as her main territory, Tisha has boned up on Chinese culture and the nuances between it and other Asian groups. Based on her understanding of Far Eastern gangs, she's fairly sure that the murder of Angie Wong is anything but random — Tisha recognizes all the markings of an execution, probably by Triad.
As Tisha and Wheeler battle their own inner demons, they must come together to solve the mystery surrounding Prescott Cassidy's death — and life. The story escalates to a nail-biting climax that explodes with suspense and terror.
Cannell has written a wild action story, using the appealing tough-guy prose he's best known for in television writing. Riding the Snake is a fast-paced, lean thriller that races to a shocking finish. Recommended!
Douglas Clegg is the author of numerous horror and suspense novels, including The Halloween Man and Bad Karma, written under his pseudonym, Andrew Harper. His recent Bram Stoker-nominated short story, "I am Infinite, I Contain Multitudes," can be found in the anthology The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Volume 11.