L.A. Noir by John Buntin
The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City

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Synopsis

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 world’s 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" Siegel’s enforcer, then as his protégé. A fastidious dresser and unrepentant killer, the diminutive Cohen was Hollywood’s 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. Parker’s 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 Angeles’s underbelly, the Mob, and America’s 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."


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About John Buntin

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JOHN BUNTIN is a staff writer at Governing magazine, where he covers crime and urban affairs. A native of Mississippi, Buntin graduated from Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and has worked as a case writer for Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. A former resident of Southern California, he now lives in Washington, D.C., with his family.
 
Published August 25, 2009 by Crown. 432 pages
Genres: History, Biographies & Memoirs, Political & Social Sciences. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for L.A. Noir

Kirkus Reviews

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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.

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Publishers Weekly

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Buntin documents the history of 1950s Los Angeles through the epic rivalry between the city’s police chief, William Parker, and its organized crime leader, Mickey Cohen.

Sep 24 2012 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

Publishers Weekly

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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.

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BC Books

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But it is not drama, despite what the author seems to claim in the prologue: “For three decades, from the Great Depression to the Watts riots, Parker and Cohen — the policeman and the gangster — would engage in a struggle for power, first as lieutenants to older, more powerful men, then directl...

Sep 06 2009 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

Book Reporter

Advertised to the world as the Eden at the end of the western frontier, the settlement that the Spaniards called El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles turned out to be something quite different --- not the beatific Our Lady the Queen of the Angels advertised by its name but rather a...

Dec 30 2010 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

AV Club

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For 30 years, a police chief and a gangster battled over L.A. This is their story.

Aug 27 2009 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

AV Club

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Noir’s brief prologue, author John Buntin claims the story he’s about to tell—the three-decade metaphorical duel to the death between the LAPD’s Chief William Parker and outstandingly successful gangster Mickey Cohen—“would change the history of Los Angeles, set race relations in America on a dan...

Aug 27 2009 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

The Washington Post

Cohen was one of thousands of criminals (in and out of the underworld) whom Parker wanted to bring under control, and Parker was just one of many cops who stood in Cohen's way.

Sep 06 2009 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

truthdig

President Barack Obama cut short his trip to India, where he lectured the locals on women’s rights, to personally express his warm wishes to the new monarch of Saudi Arabia, a country where women are not allowed to drive and where women and men are beheaded for crimes including sorcery.

Jan 27 2015 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

truthdig

Due to some disagreements between the Spanish government and Las Vegas Sands—you know, basic things such as the U.S. casino operator’s demands for lower gambling taxes and exemption from indoor smoking bans—the project to make a European version of Las Vegas has fallen through.

Dec 14 2013 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

truthdig

Bill Clinton finished what Bush Sr couldn’t in getting Canada & Mexico bribed & letting THEIR constitutions & Gov go the way as ours: they went in and STOLE their land: LOOK at S.

Sep 12 2008 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

David G. Schwartz

When Cohen arrived in Los Angeles as an adult (after a childhood in LA, he had lived in Cleveland and Chicago, among other places), he assumed a place in the city’s organized criminal hierarchy below Ben “Bugsy” Siegel, who’s obviously got some connections to Vegas.

Jul 16 2009 | Read Full Review of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for t...

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