09 February 2022

A Thousand Steps


T. Jefferson Parker’s Laguna Heat came out in 1985, and I gobbled it up.  Two years later, he released Little Saigonwhich I thought was even better.  I skipped the next six books, for a reason so trivial as to invite scorn, and with apologies, here it is.

Laguna Heat was adapted into a made-for-TV movie.  It’s got a good script, it’s well-directed, it has two-thirds of a solid lead cast.  Unhappily, the other third is Harry Hamlin, who conveys the hero’s moral conflict with furrowed brow and a general air of unplumbed gastric distress.

Now, of course, we both know that the last person to be held responsible for this is the writer.  I don’t have to quote Bill Goldman.  Jeff Parker is innocent of the wrongs done his novel, but he was somehow guilty by association.  I think this was partly unconscious – if I’d thought about it at all, I would have seen how ridiculous it was, but the effect lingered. 

So, cut to Silent Joe.  Fifteen years later, if you can believe it.  I pick it up in a bookstore and flip it open, thinking, I remember reading this guy.  The book sucks me in, no hesitation, and I’m like, where have I been?  And then, to my chagrin, I remember the back story.  This leads me to catch up with many of the books I’ve missed.

Then, in 2009, the Edgar nominations for best short story include me, Jeff Parker, Laura Lippman, Sean Chercover, and Dominique Mainard - and Linda Landrigan, my editor at Hitchcock, invites me to their table at the awards dinner.  Had a great time.  Didn’t win the Edgar.  Parker did.  “The fix was in,” Laura Lippman mutters to me.  But here’s the thing, which she and I would both readily admit.  It’s disappointing not to win, for sure, but it’s better to lose to somebody you like and admire, not just some chump.

Kept right on reading the guy.  All six Charlie Hood novels, which stack up with Don Winslow’s border trilogy. 

I have to say I’ve written about this neck of the woods as well, and about what Parker has called the Iron River, money and guns going south, drugs and human traffic coming north.  We three would probably agree that the War on Drugs is a failure, but nothing we’ve written is prescriptive.

Which brings us to A Thousand Steps. 

Jeff Parker is a California boy, and his books have a local specificity, particular to a place and time.  A Thousand Steps takes us back to Laguna, but the Laguna of 1968, the summer of a thousand Zig-Zags.  The book is, yes, a mystery thriller, but I’m inclined to think of it as a quest story first and foremost.  The departure here is that the hero is sixteen, and Parker inhabits the kid’s voice with absolute authority.  It doesn’t feel made-up or inauthentic in any way.  Parker was that age, in Laguna at the time, and he’s said in interviews that he didn’t have to conjure up much – that it was a matter of reimagination.  I believe it.

The thousand steps of the title are metaphorical, but they refer to a beach just off the Pacific Coast Highway, on the south end of Laguna.  I have another tangential connection here, which is that my pal David Price, himself a native Southern California boy, is the architect who designed the public restrooms for Laguna’s beaches.  (Both the restrooms and the flights of steps are being rehabilitated.)

A Thousand Steps, the book, is immersive.  It’s both a journey inward, and an embrace of the larger world, at high velocity.  I didn’t hesitate.  Neither should you.


  1. Having been in Laguna Beach at 16 myself - in 1970 - I'll have to check it out.

  2. The fix is in– too funny.

    We don't think about it, but someone has to design restrooms. Unfortunately I heard of a building's architect thanks to Deb) who forgot the plumbing. The contractor fitted it in, but it screwed up the appearance of the building the architect was so proud of. They could have used your friend.

    By the way, there's a famous pair of lobby restrooms in the Twin Cities where the walls are made of one-way glass. It's quite humorous.


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