Violent Ward - 1993
Deighton’s first novel set solely in Los Angeles - perhaps reflecting the fact that he had been living there for a number of years by this time - this is a classic thriller about an LA criminal lawyer Mickey Murphy, someone who appears at first hand to be as seedy as they come, who gets caught up in a murder after helping out an old flame Ingrid Petrovich, who’s connected to some shady business.
There's also her husband Zach, an entrepreneur and self-made millionaire, who's bought into Mickey's law firm. Clearly, there's more to that than meets the eye as Mickey discovers when he gets caught up with an odd English couple and a weird Reverend. He gets embroiled in a scam that goes wrong and the consequences of an LA murder.
Why it's enjoyable
It's a solid thriller, with one of the main characters being LA itself, with its riots, odd lifestyle and fast pace reminiscent of the city on fire after the Rodney King riots. It is very much out of character with much of Deighton's output, having the feel more of an old-school film noir thriller or one of Mickey Spillane's hard-boiled detective novels. Again, what's noticeable - as is the case in many of Deighton's novels, particularly the Game, Set & Match trilogy - is the strong characterisation of the women characters and their centrality to driving the plot forward.
At times, the story and the dialogue has a touch of the pot-boiler to it and can flag in pace, but overall the novel is pretty serviceable and it is interesting to see how Deighton writes outside the conventional thriller and espionage milieu.
'"Hello Zach," I said, getting into the seat alongside him. "What's on your mind?"
"Someone tried to kill me last night." He looked at me with cold gray eyes. I recalled Goldie's warning about being squashed like a bug. No matter how civilized they looked, guys like Petrovich and Westbridge had reached the head of the line by stepping over a lot of inert bodies.
"I know. I was the one who found the bomb."'
The jacket illustration of a classic Cadillac is by Larry Rostant.
This book is, unless things change, the last published full fiction work by Deighton, who was sixty-four when he completed it.
Violent Ward, UK first edition, 1993
Did you know?
Len Deighton was in Los Angeles visiting LAPD detective Bill Jordan when the LA riots broke out. Being nothing if not an opportunistic writer, Deighton decided to make the riots the denouement of his story.