For decades, Los Angeles witnessed open warfare between police and gangsters. Longtime LAPD chief Bill Parker used borderline tactics such as "roustings," weeklong activities resembling reverse Hollywood casting calls in which squads armed with mug shots would blanket the city, arresting any criminal they recognized for the nearest available charge. After being repeatedly incarcerated, sometimes several times in a single day, bad guys would get the picture that they were not wanted. But, as John Buntin proves abundantly in this L.A. narrative, mobsters fought back hard, using guns, bombs, and payoffs to crooked cops, judges, and politicians. L.A. Noir covers the tumultuous decades from Prohibition to the Watts Riots in a way so captivating that it will win the enthusiasm of any James Ellroy fan.
John Buntin tries to cram too much into its pages and writes in cliched journalese, but he persuasively argues that what ultimately shaped Los Angeles was not its sublime location but the hard truth that, as he puts it, "by the early 1920s, Los Angeles had become a Shangri-la of vice." Buntin…has unearthed in the history of 20th-century L.A. a pervasive criminality that is far more appalling than anything to be found even in the most brutal novels of James Ellroy. He views it through the lives of two men: William H. Parker, who became chief of the Los Angeles Police Department in 1950, and Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen, a celebrated, ruthless and flamboyant crook…[he] has made an entertaining tale out of their adventures
The Washington Post
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.
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"Other cities have histories. Los Angeles has legends." Those first two lines from the prologue of L.A. Noir capture perfectly the sentiment that Buntin portrays throughout his book. Buntin, who writes about crime for Governing magazine, guides the reader through a 20th-century history of Los Angeles using two of its most influential citizens—mobster Mickey Cohen and police chief William Parker. Cohen as leader of the underworld and Parker as leader of the L.A. police were natural enemies. But Buntin shows these seemingly different characters sharing much in common as each strives to become the best in his business while trying to grasp control of the city. 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. VERDICT Recommended especially for all readers who love digging into 20th-century history or particularly the city of Los Angeles.—Jeremy Spencer, Univ. of California Lib., Davis
Midcentury L.A., confidential and otherwise. Untangling the web of politics and crime that defined Los Angeles as a locus of "noir" mystique, Governing magazine writer Buntin traces the careers of two of the city's most storied combatants-Police Chief William Parker and gangster Mickey Cohen. Parker was a rigid autocrat famous for his incorruptibility, while Cohen emerges here as a charming, eccentric operator whose criminal ways often seem like merely an expression of excessively high spirits. Parker rose steadily through the ranks of the hopelessly corrupt LAPD through sheer will. He eventually revolutionized the department, turning it, and himself, into a formidable political power in its own right, rather than acting as a lackey for the entrenched and mutual interests of local business and organized crime. Cohen became king of the rackets after impressing the big boys with his chutzpah and ruthlessness. The men hated each other, and the pursuit of their divergent agendas would do much to shape Los Angeles in the public imagination. The narrative is a roller-coaster ride full of reversals, as Parker triumphed in shoring up the effectiveness of his force and containing the activities of the underworld, only to falter as toxic race relations led to such disasters as the Zoot Suit riots and the burning of Watts. Cohen lived high on the hog and enjoyed the affection of the media and public, until tax evasion-he had escaped numerous murder charges-landed him in Alcatraz, where he was crippled in an attack by a deranged fellow inmate. The colorful cast of characters intersecting with Parker and Cohen include old-school mobster Bugsy Siegel, evangelist Billy Graham and screenwriter Ben Hecht(both, bizarrely, friends of Cohen), Sammy Davis Jr., burlesque legend Candy Barr, J. Edgar Hoover, Lana Turner and Malcolm X. Gripping social history and a feast for aficionados of cops-and-robbers stories, both real and imagined. Author events out of Los Angeles
Named One of Daily Beast's "Favorite Books of 2009"
"The best non-fiction treatment of this era and this subject matter that I've ever read. I couldn't put it down for like two days." —Academy Award nominated producer of MOB CITY
"Important and wonderfully enjoyable….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…..Utterly compelling reading."
—Los Angeles Times
"Completely entertaining….a colorful and entirely different take on the vices of Tinseltown."
"Echoes crime stylists Raymond Chandler and James Ellroy."
"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."
"A roller coaster ride....Gripping social history and a feast for aficionados of cops-and-robbers stories, both real and imagined."
"Packed with Hollywood personalities, Beltway types and felons, Buntin's riveting tale of two ambitious souls on hell-bent opposing missions in the land of sun and make-believe is an entertaining and surprising diversion."
"Reads like a novel....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."
"In this breathtaking dual biography of mobster Mickey Cohen and police chief William Parker, John Buntin confronts America's most enigmatic city. For a half century and more, the chiaroscuro of Los Angeles, its interplay of sunshine and shadow, has inspired novelists and filmmakers alike to explore what Buntin has now explored in a tour de force of non-fiction narrative."
—Kevin Starr, University Professor and Professor of History, USC
"John Buntin's nonfiction cops and robbers narrative about mid-20th century Los Angeles is not only compelling reading, but a heretofore unexplored look into the LAPD and the city it tried "To Protect and Serve" during one of the most colorful and tumultuous eras in the always provocative history of the City of Angels (and badmen). Dragnet, One Adam Twelve, Police Story, LA Confidential all rolled into one captivating book. Buntin nails it in this great read.'"
—William Bratton, Chief of Police, LAPD