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L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive Cityby John Buntin
Synopses & Reviews
Other cities have histories. Los Angeles has legends.
Picture midcentury Los Angeles — a land of orange groves, sunshine, and Hollywood stars — protected by the world's most famous police force, the LAPD. But behind the image was a hidden underworld of pleasure girls, crooked cops, and gangsters on the make. This is the story of L.A.'s most notorious gangster and its most famous police chief — each prepared to battle the other for control of the city.
Mickey Cohen left the boxing ring for the rackets, first as mobster Benjamin Bugsy Siegel's enforcer, then as his protege. As a rookie patrolman in the Roaring Twenties, William Parker discovered that L.A. was ruled by a shadowy underworld. His life mission became to topple it — and create a police department that would never answer to politicians again.
For more than three decades, from Prohibition through the Watts Riots, their struggle convulsed the city, intersecting in the process with the agendas and ambitions of J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Mike Wallace and Billy Graham, Lana Turner and Malcolm X, and inspiring writers from Raymond Chandler to James Ellroy. Its outcome shaped American policing and the history of Los Angeles, fueling racial distrust that sparked the Watts riots and continues to this day.
L.A. Noir is a fast-paced, funny, and richly detailed narrative that will appeal to all of those fascinated by a great Mob tale and the lure of a latter-day El Dorado.
"Buntin, a crime writer for Governing magazine, chronicles the complex, interlocking lives of brutal gangster Mickey Cohen and durable police chief William Parker, telling their stories against the backdrop of Tinseltown from the 1930s to the '60s. The author adds to the mix the colorful cultural and political saga of the star-struck metropolis, a city ripe for a bitter power play between the crooks and cops, rampant with drug dens, pleasure palaces, illegal gambling and other assorted vices. The ruthlessness of Cohen, an heir to 'Bugsy' Siegel, and the deadpan determination of Parker are placed in proper context with the seminal events of Prohibition, the Red scare, the federal crackdown on mobsters, and the Watts riots. Packed with Hollywood personalities, Beltway types and felons, Buntin's riveting tale of two ambitious souls hell-bent on opposing missions in the land of sun and make-believe is an entertaining and surprising diversion — as well as a sobering look at the role of the LAPD in fomenting racial tensions in L.A. 16 pages of b&w photos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Gripping social history and a feast for aficionados of cops-and-robbers stories, both real and imagined." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] work of nonfiction that reads like a novel....I do not say this often, but L.A. Noir is a book that I found almost impossible to put down. Buntin has written an important and entertaining book about one of America's greatest cities in the 20th century that echoes down to the world we live in today." BookReporter.com
"[I]mportant and wonderfully enjoyable....This is a highly original and altogether splendid history that can be read for sheer pleasure and belongs on the shelf of indispensable books about America's most debated and least understood cities." Los Angeles Times
"Los Angeles is more than just a backdrop for the stories of these two men. The city acts as the third main character in this plot, prompting, inciting, and influencing the actions of Cohen and Parker." Library Journal
"L.A. Noir is a fascinating look at the likes of Mickey Cohen and Bill Parker, the two kingpins of Los Angeles crime and police lore. John Buntin's work here is detailed and intuitive. Most of all, it's flat out entertaining." Michael Connelly
For more than three decades, from Prohibition through the Watts riots, Los Angeles's most notorious gangster, former featherweight boxer Mickey Cohen, and the policeman who created the modern LAPD, Chief William H. Parker, battled to rule the city. The outcome shaped modern American policing and had a profound impact on L.A.'s history. In L.A. Noir, author John Buntin offers a fascinating examination of how the LAPD created a dangerously unaccountable surveillance-intensive model of crime fighting that profoundly damaged Los Angeles's social fabric and eerily prefigured today's "war on terror." Along the way, he brings to life the gangsters, cops, pols, and molls whom Raymond Chandler, Billy Wilder, and James Ellroy have celebrated in film and novels.
The result is a fascinating, entertaining, and richly detailed narrative about a city that has the allure of a latter-day El Dorado.
Buntin offers a fascinating examination of how the LAPD had created a dangerously unaccountable surveillance-intensive model of crime fighting that has profoundly damaged Los Angeles's social fabric and had eerily prefigured today's "war on terror."
Other cities have histories. Los Angeles has legends.
Midcentury Los Angeles. A city sold to the world as "the white spot of America," a land of sunshine and orange groves, wholesome Midwestern values and Hollywood stars, protected by the worlds most famous police force, the Dragnet-era LAPD. Behind this public image lies a hidden world of "pleasure girls" and crooked cops, ruthless newspaper tycoons, corrupt politicians, and East Coast gangsters on the make. Into this underworld came two men-one L.A.s most notorious gangster, the other its most famous police chief-each prepared to battle the other for the soul of the city.
Former street thug turned featherweight boxer Mickey Cohen left the ring for the rackets, first as mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegels enforcer, then as his protégé. A fastidious dresser and unrepentant killer, the diminutive Cohen was Hollywoods favorite gangster-and L.A.s preeminent underworld boss. Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, and Sammy Davis Jr. palled around with him; TV journalist Mike Wallace wanted his stories; evangelist Billy Graham sought his soul.
William H. Parker was the proud son of a pioneering law-enforcement family from the fabled frontier town of Deadwood. As a rookie patrolman in the Roaring Twenties, he discovered that L.A. was ruled by a shadowy "Combination"-a triumvirate of tycoons, politicians, and underworld figures where alliances were shifting, loyalties uncertain, and politics were practiced with shotguns and dynamite. Parkers life mission became to topple it-and to create a police force that would never answer to elected officials again.
These two men, one morally unflinching, the other unflinchingly immoral, would soon come head-to-head in a struggle to control the city-a struggle that echoes unforgettably through the fiction of Raymond Chandler and movies such as The Big Sleep, Chinatown, and L.A. Confidential.
For more than three decades, from Prohibition through the Watts Riots, the battle between the underworld and the police played out amid the nightclubs of the Sunset Strip and the mansions of Beverly Hills, from the gritty streets of Boyle Heights to the manicured lawns of Brentwood, intersecting in the process with the agendas and ambitions of J. Edgar Hoover, Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X. The outcome of this decades-long entanglement shaped modern American policing-for better and for worse-and helped create the Los Angeles we know today.
A fascinating examination of Los Angeless underbelly, the Mob, and Americas most admired-and reviled-police department, L.A. Noir is an enlightening, entertaining, and richly detailed narrative about the city originally known as El Pueblo de Nuestra Se-ora la Reina de los Angeles, "The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels."
About the Author
John Buntin, a crime reporter at Governing magazine, is the author of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City. Visit him online at www.deadwood-dick.com
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