Book review: L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City

L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive CityL.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City by John Buntin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read some Ellroy? Like Dragnet? You’ll probably enjoy this book. It’s essentially a history of the LAPD, though that title wouldn’t have half as much excitement as this one: at once piggybacking on the Ellroy novel/flick and evoking the idea of a titanic struggle between good and evil.

The truth is a little less razzle-dazzle. What we have here is the story of the LAPD presented by focusing on the career of two men – William H. Parker, who would rise to head the organsation, and Mickey Cohen, part of a different Organisation altogether.

I’m not certain Buntin’s pitching Cohen and Parker as seemingly mortal enemies is as solid a plank as it appears – sure, there was a lot of back-and-forth, but with the must-be-seen Cohen, that’s to be expected of anybody. The portraits of the two men are excellent, no doubt, but I don’t think the adversarial nature of their relationship quite lived up to the title’s evocative words.

Otherwise, it’s a good yarn. Terrible policing, good policing (and the birth of many procedures still applied today) are covered here, as well as everything from gangland shoot-outs to the Watts riots. The research is solid, and a real sense of place is evoked. Racial tensions are examined, and though the book does sometimes linger too long on the politicking of the position of Chief, it’s an enjoyable read, and sure to provide further background information to that hyperbolically shot into the collective brain courtesy of James Ellroy.

My Goodreads profile is here. 

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