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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Monday, September 6, 2010

This is the city. . . Los Angeles, California. . .

L.A. Noir
by John Buntin
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Broadway;  first edition April 6, 2010
ISBN-10: 0307352080
ISBN-13: 978-0307352088
(Read from Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, 2012)

If you are a noir fan, this book serves up nearly three-quarters of a century of the history of the Los Angeles underworld, spelling out the background behind the Zoot Suit riots, the "Bloody Christmas" melee that forms the centerpiece of L.A. Confidential, and the gambling and prostitution rackets that are the treacherous undercurrent running through most of James Ellroy's novels. 

Many of the real-life characters whose stories are explored in this non-fiction offering pop up undisguised in books such as Clandestine and The Black Dahlia, while thinly disguised versions of others can be found in The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely.

Buntin does an excellent job of contrasting the stories of the "dapper little gent," Mickey Cohen and Police Chief William Parker, Cohen's nemesis and the man who built the Los Angeles Police Department into one of the best-known law enforcement agencies in the world. 

He explores Cohen's role in the changing face of organized crime in the Southland and chronicles Parker's battle against corruption in his own department and the influence of such rivals as J. Edgar Hoover, who saw Parker as a threat to his position as director of the FBI.

The book is populated with colorful characters on both sides of the law, including LA Mayors Frank Shaw, Fletcher Bowron, Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley, President John F. Kennedy, playright and Cohen confidante Ben Hecht, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown and gangsters Louis and Jack Dragna, Frank Costello, Bugsy Siegel and Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno. 

It is well worth a read for anyone who wants to know the seamy Los Angeles that helped to shape the hard-boiled thriller before and after World War II.

I rate LA Noir a whopping five nooses!

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