What Scott Frank’s Shaker Gets Right (and Wrong) About L.A.

Literary critic David Kipen on what’s caught his eye

You can usually tell a thoroughly Angeleno crime writer from the non-native variety. The invasive species tries to cram in the whole city, skywriting his or her name above it like some airborne tagger. Case in point: gifted but bicoastal screenwriter Scott Frank (Get Shorty). His first novel, Shaker, begins with every Hollywood scribe’s fantasy—an earthquake that nearly levels L.A. It ends with a shoot-out at Dodger Stadium, a landmark perhaps too gentle for a properly climactic set piece. Between these calamitous bookends Frank tells a decent story about a hit man mistaken for a hero; but all of Shaker’s gritty grace notes can’t compensate for its unconvincing portrait of the city. Readers looking for an Elmore Leonard-esque good time might prefer sports writer-turned-TV producer (and local kid) John Schulian’s novel A Better Goodbye. With crime fiction, as with bookstores, it’s best to shop local.