Review – Little Saigon by T. Jefferson Parker

It’s not immediately clear why Chuck Frye is the black sheep of his influential Laguna Beach family. It’s not his fault the evidence his brother asks him to hide is immediately stolen from his house by Vietnamese gangsters. And it’s pretty obvious the naked woman the local paparazzi caught Chuck chasing after was actually his wife, and he’s hiding her identity to avoid causing embarrassment to her father the mayor. If anything, my initial impression was that everyone in Little Saigon except for Chuck was a big jerk.

Then Chuck meets Cristobel. Confounded by her reluctance to jump into bed with him, Cristobel explains she was recently gang-raped. Already on a quest to bring his sister-in-law’s kidnappers to justice, Chuck hits up the police for information on Cristobel’s attackers as well. When he discovers the incident was never reported, Chuck immediately assumes that Cristobel’s been lying to him. So he chases her around his house, rips off her clothes, and shouts “IS THIS WHAT IT WAS LIKE?” until she collapses to the floor crying.

As it turns out, Cristobel was lying, but only because she was spying on Chuck for the evil land developer that was plotting to buy out the Frye family business, and she knew that if she slept with him she’d fall in love with him. It sounds a bit ridiculous, but it all makes sense when you consider the man she’s reporting to has a collection of exotic venomous snakes in his basement, and his sister, who’s also his lover, was in on it the whole time. He’s also in cahoots with the Viet Cong resistance, alive and well in the sewers under Little Saigon, whose leader has a personal vendetta against the Fryes as well.

I love T. Jefferson Parker. Along with fellow mystery writer Timothy Hallinan, he’s responsible for inspiring me to move back to the west coast as an adult. Some people dream of living in New York. Some people want to escape to the country. Others want to abandon society to live in caves and become famous comic book writing chaos magicians. T. Jefferson Parker painted such an enticing picture of Southern California, I couldn’t wait to get out here and write, get in trouble with troubled women, and develop a socially tolerable alcohol dependency[1].

But Parker’s novels are occasionally a little silly. He did, after all, go on to write a story about a woman pursued by assassins working for the LA Department of Water and Power[2]. Little Saigon itself is so overstuffed with subplots it borders and farce. But coupled with Chuck’s juvenile, petulant behavior, and the general villainy of everyone who surrounds him, it’s also incongruently dreary.  It’s a terribly un-fun collision of noir and wackiness.

Little Saigon was the first T. Jefferson Parker novel I ever read. I checked it out on tape from the Mary Riley Styles Library in Falls Church, Virginia, and it fascinated me while recovering from dental surgery brought on by an abscessed tooth. I was on very strong painkillers at the time, and all I really remembered about it was being disappointed that Chuck Frye went for Cristobel instead of the beautiful journalism student Tuy Nha. I still find that kind of baffling, but having come back to it years later, I’m just surprised Chuck didn’t end up in jail. Out of all the bad guys in the book, he was the one who really had it coming.


[1] Those plans didn’t work out too well. But I have solved a surprising number of corruption cases involving members of my family who were highly-ranked officials in various California police departments.

[2] You laugh, but she developed a technology capable of summoning rain, thus threatening to put the LA DWP out of business forever.

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