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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 City [Kindle Edition]

John Buntin
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Fascinating ... flat out entertaining (Michael Connelly)

A highly original and altogether splendid history ... utterly compelling (Tim Rutten Los Angeles Times)

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. (Jonathan Yardley Washington Post)

Completely entertaining ... a colourful and entirely different take on the vices of Tinseltown. (Gerald Posner Daily Beast)

Dragnet, One Adam Twelve, Police Story, LA Confidential all rolled into one captivating book. Buntin nails it in this great read. (LAPD Chief William Bratton)

Book Description

The epic struggle for control of Los Angeles and the history of the 30s, 40s, and 50s in America's dream city. Now the FOX UK TV series MOB CITY.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1975 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Orion (6 Feb 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00I089W6W
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #152,771 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Read this after visiting LA for the first time: a fascinating and very unexpected place in the flesh but even the most cursory experience of it tells you it's a city of extremes. This book offers a cogent and fascinating explanation of the light and dark of this city at the States' western frontier: it is equally seductive as a city of vice and as a beacon of wholesome family values; different ideas of the good life suckering wildly different types of people in. The complex (and symbiotic) relationship between the 'official' LA and the underworld is crystallised in the parallel fortunes of police chief William Parker and gangster Mickey Cohen. Buntin writes beautifully, has researched deeply and tells the story faultlessly. It is a great companion piece to that other masterpiece of West Coast "true crime" writing, Helter Skelter.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Mob City 20 Mar 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
After a promising start the story just fizzled out, the author then repeated himself about certain characters and situations and used far too much jargon about the various scams etc. Disappointing
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  159 reviews
70 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating history, well told 19 July 2009
By H. F. Gibbard - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"L.A. Noir" is a fascinating study of organized crime in Los Angeles and the politics of policing it from the Twenties to the Sixties. It's an entertaining read that I found hard to put down. The book has everything: mob hits, police brutality, corruption, violence, glamor, and pathos. The author focuses on two major figures whose lives spanned this period: the gangster Micky Cohen and LAPD officer and chief Bill Parker. The two eventually became bitter enemies in a struggle for the soul of the city.

For most of the time period covered, the LAPD resembled a mercenary army, subject to being bought off or bribed by one mob faction or another. Los Angeles was a wide open city, where crime flourished and no one tried too hard to bring the Syndicate to heel. While this sometimes led to wild instability and brutal killings, at other times the mob was able to reach an accommodation with the police and city hall, known as the "Combination." For a while, the Combination controlled L.A.

Mickey Cohen was a lackluster boxer and low-life hood who rose to the top in the criminal underworld in Los Angeles. His chief strengths appear to have been absolute ruthlessness and a complete lack of fear. He stood up with almost crazy resolve, especially in the early days, to mobsters much more powerful than he was, almost daring them to kill him. His recklessness paid off. Bugsy Siegel made him his right-hand man, and when Bugsy eventually dropped out of the picture, Mickey ascended to the top spot. He had it all: wealth, power, respect, and the company of beautiful women.

But Cohen had an adversary, a nemesis in Bill Parker. Parker was an odd duck: personally incorruptible but flawed by his heavy drinking, narrow-mindedness, and fits of rage. Over decades he worked to insulate the police department from political pressure, a key facilitator of corruption. When he finally made it to the top, he went after the mob with a vengeance. He suffered from a strange form of Cold War paranoia, believing that organized crime served the nefarious purposes of Communism. He would later bring the same unfortunate linkage to his view of the Civil Rights movement, with tragic results.

The sidelights in this book are what really makes it fun. Whether it's Billy Graham trying to convert Mickey Cohen, the mob coming down on Sammy Davis, Jr. for dating Kim Novak, the use of Jack Webb's "Dragnet" to burnish the LAPD's image, a look at the politics of wiretapping, or Mike Wallace's interview with Mickey Cohen (in which Cohen called Parker a "degenerate"), the book is full of colorful anecdotes, containing one fascinating revelation after another.

The book ends with an exploration of the LAPD's tragic bungling of the Watts riots, laying the failure at part at Parker's own feet. It is a rich reminder of the man's multifaceted character and his flaws. I highly recommend "L.A. Noir" for its fascinating history of crime corruption in Twentieth-Century Los Angeles.
30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched But Lacking A Soul 28 Mar 2010
By TMStyles - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Marketing blurbs and splash page descriptions drew me to "L.A.Noir: The Struggle For The Soul Of America's Most Seductive City" and I was both rewarded and disappointed. The rewards emerged from the meticulous research and heavily annotated background of this effort that chronicle's the struggle for law and order in Los Angeles from the 1930's to the 1990's. My disappointment resulted from the very superficial, plodding, business-like approach taken by the author. There is no soul to this book that purports to research the struggle for the soul of L.A. There is no palpable atmosphere as places and people seldom spring to life in the dull unfolding narrative. Indeed, maybe the problem lies more in the fact that the narrative is almost totally chronological rather than structured around themes and incidents.

"L.A. Noir" is essentially the story of the politics of 20th century Los Angeles and the changing role of the LAPD and its chiefs. There are two themes that do seem to thread through the book, one plainly trumpeted as the rise of William Parker to L.A. Chief of Police and Mickey Cohen's rise to mobster/celebrity status, although this theme may be plainly overdrawn in the purported "titantic struggle" between the two. The other, less identified but certainly more powerful theme was the inevitable changing demographics of the Los Angeles metropolitan area that ultimately changed the political, cultural, and social make-up of L.A. and the effect those changes had on the LAPD and the political scene.

Having lived through the last 50 years of the book, I was intrigued by remembering people or incidents from the past, expecially celebrities and crises. The reader encounters a young Billy Graham as he tries to convert Cohen, Robert Kennedy as he aligns with Parker, a snotty J. Edger Hoover, a frightened Sammy Davis Jr., and the rise of Mayors Sam Yorty and Tom Bradley. The reader can revisit the Watts riots and (their precipitating events) of 1965 and 1992 (remember Rodney King), the assassination of Robert Kennedy, and the mob's fight for control of the city.

"L.A.Noir" can be recommended to students and researchers of 20th century Los Angeles although the depth of coverage is uneven at times (Sleepy Lagoon and "Zoot Suit" confrontations, for example). Certainly the anotated notes and the bibliography can provide serious students of that era with a wealth of references and resources. I just wish there had been more soul to what was otherwise, an interesting read.
47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy Beginning, Muddled Middle, Uneven Ending 30 Jun 2009
By Grey Wolffe - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Buntin is a writer for "Governing" magazine. According to Wikipedia, "it's a monthly magazine...whose subject area is state and local government in the United States. The magazine's circulation is approximately 85,000, most of whom are elected, appointed or career officials in state and local government." It's also a source as an authority for citations by the national media.

The book starts off with a bang, literally, describing the 'wild west' mentality in LA at the beginning of the century; and some of Mickey Cohen's more memorable 'rub outs'. Buntin is best when he's describes Mickey and 'The Mob', and the further back he starts the more sensational and interesting the background stories are. When he finally get's to the meat of the story, which is to be Mickey Cohen (i.e. Semi- organized Crime) and Police Chief William Parker, he begins to jumps around with dates and periods.

One of the failures of the book is that Butin is trying to write alternate chapters about one or the other main protagonists in the book, but at the time of the the major event of Parker's career (the Watts Riots) Cohen is in jail and no way involved. In fact it has nothing to do with 'organized crime' at all; most of the criminals at this point are gang based and totally disorganized.

The latter part of the book is all Parker and the 'civil rights' movement and race problems in LA, not to mention the inadequate size of the LAPD and living in the 'forties' mentality of the upper levels of the LAPD. Though Butin does put some of the blame on Parker for his inability to change with the times, he's constantly making excuses for him and tries to dump some of the blame on his successors. The problem with 'passing the buck' is that these men trained under Parker and were so set in the ways of the LAPD that they couldn't see the problems.

Butin especially comes down hard on Chief Daryl Gates and his involvement in the "Rodney King Riots". But Gates has been a whipping boy for everything that went wrong at that time in LA (Mayors Yorty and Bradley seem to skate through the problem). Though Butin makes a side comment about some of Bradley's problems as mayor (relating to misspent funds and corruption) he puts little blame on him. This could be in part because of Butin's ties to "Governing", and Bradley's legacy in the Black community of LA.

Butin also seems to have a grudging respect for Cohen and all of the Mafia Dons. Yes, they were larger than life and colorful, but Mickey is thought to have been involved in up to thirty murders (though he 'never killed anyone who didn't deserve it', in his own words). Butin spends an inordinate amount of time describing Mickey's wardrobe and toileting habits (his one hour showers), not to mention his eating habits. This part feels like he didn't have enough to write so he just kept throwing in the same points over and over.

Zeb Kantrowitz
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Treatment of L.A. History 29 May 2014
By Patrick Knox - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Being an Los Angeles Resident my entire life, I enjoyed this author's look at organized crime and police work in the city. Mickey Cohen and William Parker are the main characters in this story but a multitude of other low-lifes and good guys are woven into the tale. There may more comprehensive histories of the city but this author's focus is razor sharp and insightful. I would highly recommend this as a good read.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Focusing on the power struggle for control of Los Angeles 11 Oct 2009
By Wayne Klein - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you ever wonder where writers like Robert Towne ("Chinatown")get their inspiration from you need look no further than the real history of Los Angeles. A dual biography of two influential men in Los Angeles history and the changing face of L.A., L.A. Noir gives us the hidden world of Los Angeles and people like Mickey Cohen who helped run its underworld. Cohen hung around with movie stars, musicians and other notable celebrities.

Cohen's doppleganger William H. Parker came from a law enforcement family who's relatives included the sherriff of the infamous Deadwood. Parker rose up from the ranks during the 1920's. He was in for a rude awakening when he discovered that L.A. was actually run by politicians controlled by mob figures and the wealthy. As he rose up in ranks he made it his personal mission to make the L.A. Police Department respectable.

These two very different men survived the decades and battled each other directly and indirectly for the soul of Los Angeles. L.A. Noir documents that struggle between these two extremes.

While a well researched book, L.A. Noir gets bogged down in the details and, if you add the less than impressive writing style of the author, you have a book that you'll have fight to stay away reading unless you're a buff of L.A. history and the struggle for its soul. L.A. Noir isn't a bad book just not engaging enough. Reading it eventually became a chore simply because I refused to give up and hoped that the book might have something to redeem it.
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