More than four years ago, that’s 28 of them in my dog’s life, mi compadre Pop Culture Nerd linked readers, and her L.A. Times Festival of Books friends, to a Jacket Copy blog interview of T. Jefferson Parker. An author she introduced me to awhile back. His attendance at said festival an annual event. I thought Carolyn Kellogg’s final question of the article to the local author fit well into the week’s upcoming book festivities:
“Do you have a favorite book or movie about Los Angeles?”
TJP’s answer was one I’d expect from the SoCal native:
“”True Confessions” by John Gregory Dunne would be my favorite L.A. book, with many close seconds. Movies? Man…well “Chinatown” still tops the list for me.”
As a native Angeleno who enjoys both of these popular arts and spoke of some of these books a couple of years back, might as well add my own.
My Favorite Books of L.A.
L.A. Requiem – Besides being Robert Crais’ best book, in my opinion, it was also my favorite in his Elvis Cole & Joe Pike series. In addition, the author made the City of the Angels so integral to the storytelling that you couldn’t have one without the other. Plus, when it came out it simply blew the doors off in structure of how a book related the private eye tale to its readers. Mystery writers who came after this novel owe Crais a debt for removing the shackles off of the genre.
Sunset Express – The sixth book in the Cole/Pike series offered an excellent historical snapshot of a tumultuous period in Los Angeles, hiding within its sharp police procedural storyline. The novel may have offered another take of the O.J. Simpson arrest and trial, and its sensation, but with enough twists and turns, along with Crais’ sense of humor, to not forget to be entertaining with its insights.
The Monkey’s Raincoat – I have to include the one book that started it all for me with this television writer-producer-turned-novelist. The influences of the next author on this list can be seen here, but the author made the characters he introduced, and this city, distinctly his own as he assumed the mantle the other passed on to him. Turn the page back to 1987 L.A. to see why I say this.
The Big Sleep – I don’t think you can mention Los Angeles and crime fiction in the same sentence and not think about the author synonymous with both. My first Raymond Chandler novel and my introduction to the honorable P.I. known as Philip Marlowe. Written in 1939, and perhaps fixed to that time by text, it remains timeless to the seedy events that live under the surface of a city that’s always reinventing itself.
The Long Goodbye – What many consider was Raymond Chandler’s best book in the series, and I simply can’t argue against that. A story about friendship, love, and betrayal, it’s probably the one novel of his that covered the most ground. Figuratively, across the city’s landscape, and emotionally, character-wise. The Lady in the Lake gets top honors by others, but this was Chandler working on all cylinders, in my estimation.
L.A. Confidential – James Ellroy’s partly autobiographical, and very much fierce, novel was a historical tour de force of the corrupt underside of the city in the 50s. One that ran contrary to the image Hollywood and city fathers love to sell, and still do. Epic in its scope, three tortured souls of the LAPD take themselves, and readers, through an L.A. not glimpsed often, on a ride of their lives.
Get Shorty – One of the most memorable and fun reads by the master storyteller, the late-Elmore Leonard. It surely contains some of the coolest dialogue, and one of my all-time favorite protagonists, on the page. Mixing the underworld and the world of Hollywood, it blurs the line of fiction and reality the only way Leonard can. It’s the polar opposite of James Ellroy’s, but equally a masterpiece of writing, and of this city.
The Onion Field – If there is one book I’ll forever associate with the ex-LAPD officer-turned-author Joseph Wambaugh, it’s this one. The in-depth look at the 1963 incident, which continues to reach out from this city’s past to this day, remains the author’s best, in my opinion. As gripping as any great fictional police thriller, its painstaking analysis of true crime will not let the reader go.
The Black Marble – This novel might be the antithesis of the above book. Author Joseph Wambaugh’s use of dark humor, the laugh-out-loud variety, in a lovely off-beat tale involving crime, this city, along with its suburbs, endures in the most unexpectedly tender way. A bittersweet romantic story that I never thought would come from this writer. Could not have been more pleasantly surprised with the result.
Devil in a Blue Dress – Walter Mosley’s evocative and eye-opening introduction of the character Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins went a long way in spotlighting portions of this city few had written about. Or knew as well. The world of a young black veteran in the post-WWII 40s of Southern California enlightened the unaware, and gave a voice to those without, via this distinct hardboiled mystery.
The Black Echo – The introductory novel for both the ex-L.A. Times writer-turned-novelist Michael Connelly, and his invention of the maverick LAPD homicide detective known as Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, resides in my final slot. The book’s iceberg plotting weaved a wonderful look at the core of the place many of us call home. The City of Angels through the eyes of a unique character that could only exist here.
If you have any of your own, please feel free to add to this list.
Next Up: Favorite Movies of L.A.