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September 14, 2013

L.A. Noir

I have just finished L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City by John Buntin. The skeleton of the book is the parallel biographies of William Parker, LAPD Chief from 1950 until his death in 1966, and Mickey Cohen, L.A. mobster who died in 1976. John Buntin fleshes out that skeletal frame with the sprawling story of 20th century Los Angeles and everything it touched. It's a history of the LAPD through the Rodney King riots and the story of the mob throughout the United States in the last century. It's politics in the LAPD, City of Los Angeles and State of California. It's a history of racism in the United States as well as a history of the advances of civil liberties from an era when courts generally considered the 4th amendment to the U.S. Constitution to apply only to the federal government to the radical changes that began to come in the 1950s. Until the courts decided otherwise, it was considered 100% legal to hide (without a warrant) a Dictaphone in someone's house to record all conversations because it was technically not wiretapping (the breaking and entering part of the process was just overlooked). It's the Chandlers at the L.A. Times versus William Randolph Hearst.

Both William Parker and Mickey Cohen came to Los Angeles as children around 1920-ish; Cohen from Brooklyn and Parker from Deadwood, but their histories didn't begin to directly interact until Parker became Chief in 1950. Prior to that, Parker, who had joined the LAPD in 1927 and was instrumental in crafting the civil service protections that allowed the LAPD to function fairly freely of political control by city hall until those protections were reduced after the Rodney King riots. His LAPD career was interrupted only by his service in the Marines in World War II where his duties included de-Nazification of police agencies in Europe.

I listened to the audiobook version. Up to now I've been very impressed with the skill of the various narrators of audiobooks. Kirby Heyborne, narrator of L.A. Noir, is the first exception. He mispronounces a few words that most English speakers are familiar with ("Sardinia" for example), but his biggest howler was pronouncing "lunged" as though it were the past tense of "lung" (as if that were possible) instead of the past tense of "lunge." My moment of visuo-lingual confusion was pretty messy. Also, he renders all female voices so they sound like an 11-year old boy pretending to be a girl.

I was able to mostly overlook those flaws. The book itself will give you a non-standard view of the story how Los Angeles came to be what it is.

Filed under Books,California,Cities/Urbanism | permalink | September 14, 2013 at 10:51 AM


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