In the 5th book of the Jack Liffey series, John Shannon has created dual plots that start off as two completely separate incidents, but become extremely significant to each other and to the outcome of the story. His control of these plots is very effective, never letting one storyline take over the other. Instead, he just reminds us occasionally that there is "another danger" out there.
Jack Liffey is an unofficial private detective who specialises in finding missing children. In this case, the plot that has Liffey's attention is an investigation into the disappearance of a black boy and his white girlfriend. There is a strong suggestion that their disappearance may have something to do with an earlier altercation with a bike gang.
In the course of his investigation, Liffey crosses paths with the aforementioned bike gang, has a major run-in with an unusual but extremely dangerous religious group and meets Ornetta, the delightful shining light of the story. Ornetta is an 11-year-old girl who has an incredible gift for storytelling. She steals every scene in which she appears, which is fortunately many.
The wider storyline running in parallel to the Liffey focus is a wave of rioting that has broken out throughout L.A. on the back of the knocking unconscious of a black baseball star by a member of the LAPD. The riots are triggered when the officer involved is acquitted of any wrongdoing. The ongoing riots play a major part in the story as Liffey is caught up in them in a desperate race against time while crossing from one side of the city to the other.
A much larger role in this book compared to earlier books is given to Maeve, Jack's 15 year old daughter. She has been a fringe character up until STREETS ON FIRE, merely providing a poignant side story that highlights their mutual affection for one another. Two events take place that brings Maeve to her father's place and into his investigation. The first is a run-in with her stepfather and the second is the discovery of her mother's old Nancy Drew books. She moves in with her father and gets the idea that she could try her hand at detective work a la Nancy Drew. While the results are predictable, it gives us an opportunity to get to know her better and it cements the bond between father and daughter even more than it was originally.
An instant friendship forms between Maeve and Ornetta that becomes an incredibly strong bond between two the girls who swear blood-sisterhood with each other. I felt their love and friendship was on of the strongest parts of the book, providing a counterpoint to the hate that Jack Liffey was fighting. It was inevitable that the girls are involved in the climax to the book, giving us someone to care about and then putting their lives at risk.
From a quiet start, this story builds in intensity as the unrest around the city grows and finally explodes cutting across the investigation that Jack Liffey conducts. The ending is highly charged, heart in mouth action. Overall, it's a detective story that takes us deeper into the personal life of Jack Liffey causing me to care about him and his family even more.