The Last King of California by Jordan Harper

Today I am sharing my thoughts on The Last King of California by Jordan Harper. this book came on my radar last year when SA Cosby recommended the author’s work at Capital Crime. I love SA Cosby’s writing, so when he says someone is good, I’m definitely going to take note. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Owned Copy
Release Date: 29 September 2022
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

About the Book

Sometimes to find yourself, you have to go back to where you came from.
You just might not like what you find.
After failing in his new life, Luke decides to go home, back to the one place where he’d once felt he belonged. But that was a long time ago and now he has to face the life that he chose to run away from: The Combine. The gang that his uncle now leads, but which his father still runs from prison. Brutal, unforgiving . . . family.
Reunited with his childhood friend Callie and tagging along on jobs with her and her boyfriend Pretty Baby, Luke soon discovers that he might have a place back home after all. When another gang try to encroach on their turf, The Combine and Luke must go to war to save all that they know. 
But in trying to be someone you’re not, can you ever find out who you really are? 
Family is everything and blood is love.

My Thoughts

This is quite the book and one that has left me in quite a quandary. How do I review it and do the book, and the author justice? On one hand, this is classic, hard hitting, American noir, and yet, there is an altogether softer and more emotional side to the story as well. Beyond the violence, the gang rituals and the fight for power, this is a story of brotherhood and, more importantly, family. It is, by and large, the story of Luke, a young man who has been estranged from his father’s family and his gang, The Combine, but who returns home in a bid to find out where he truly belongs. It’s a journey of self discovery as Luke faces his memories, and fears, head on, finding himself in the midst of a brewing gang war. But is he man enough to live up to his father’s legacy, and can he overcome the darkness that has plagued him for years.

I kind of liked Luke. He is as lost a soul as you could expect to find, and his story is so typical, and believable of many young men across the globe. Whilst he has tried to make something of himself, entering college and trying to pursue an altogether more legal career, he can’t quite shake off his past, and what he witnesses as a child is enough to push any sane person over the edge. Despite all early appearances, there is a determination and resilience in him that defies the belief of his family and you have to admire that. Jordan Harper has created a character who, through his actions and his inherent kindness and loyalty in the face of absolutely devastating violence, you cannot help but feel empathy towards. I wanted to go on this journey with him, perhaps more so than any other character in the book. His childhood friend, Callie, also plays a very important role in the book, and my feelings towards her were often conflicted. I had sympathy towards her desire to get away from The Combine, and yet her methods were clearly ill conceived and doomed to failure right from the off.

There is violence in the book – it would be a rather lame story of a turf war without it. But whilst graphic in execution – how can someone being burned alive be anything but – it does not feel gratuitous, If anything, the narrative plays out in a way that makes you feel that it’s just the way that is it, and that anyone in the lifestyle the gangs have adopted understand the risks that they are always under. But it is that almost matter-of-fact way in which the whole story is presented that really makes it more poignant, makes what comes to pass all the more shocking and yet inevitable. But the overwhelming theme that rings through it all is one of a brotherhood – of absolute loyalty between each gang member, so much so that any sense of betrayal is dealt with in the harshest of possible ways.

The tone of the book is just right, The way in which the author uses language and pacing to create drama and tension is spot on. I had a real keen sense of place as I read the book, could almost feel the desolate and ry landscape that first greets Luke, and feel the welcome release of the rain when it finally appears. Whilst all may appear calm on the surface, there is a constant sense of threat and dread that permeates the whole book, that certainty that things could erupt at any moment. The permanence of The Combine’s black heart tattoo echoes that sense that once you are part of the extended family of The Combine, you are in for life. It is all encompassing, perhaps even a little suffocating in that they live, and die, in each others pockets, but the story is utterly compelling.

If you have read and loved S.A. Cosby’s novels this is definitely a book I would recommend you read. Atmospheric and full of brooding tension, with pacing that slowly builds to the highly dramatic ending, this is a coming of age story that really packs a punch. And that final chapter … So powerful and so packed with emotion that it left me completely and utterly satisfied. American noir at its best. Loved it.

About the Author

Jordan Harper was born and educated in Missouri. He’s worked as an ad man, a rock critic and a journalist and currently lives in Los Angeles.  He writes for shows including Gotham and was lead writer on The Mentalist.