Mysteries Close to Home: Los Angeles Noir

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Detective interviewing a young sad woman in his office, film noir scene.

By Katherine Sharma

It’s a rainy winter day in Los Angeles, courtesy of El Nino, and a great time to stay at home with a good mystery. Since Los Angeles is the recognized home of “noir” police procedurals and “hard-boiled” private eyes, I’m gathering together my favorite “L.A. noir” authors.

Start with Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye; in post-war L.A., iconic private investigator Philip Marlowe is dragged into a cesspool of dangerous lies after befriending a drunken, scarred vet with a rich nymphomanic wife who turns up dead.

Then go neo-noir with James Ellroy’s The Black Dahlia, the first in his quartet of novels about corrupt police and depraved post-war society, inspired by the gruesome, unsolved 1947 Elizabeth Short murder.

Moving forward in L.A. history, there is T. Jefferson Parker’s Edgar Award-winning The California Girl, set in Orange County’s suburbs at the time of Vietnam, hippies and LSD, when three brothers (a cop, a reporter and a minister) collide over the decapitation murder of a teenage beauty queen.

I also love Michael Connelly’s maverick homicide detective Harry Bosch, and I’d recommend starting with the Edgar Award-winning The Black Echo. It’s the first entry in the Bosch series and introduces Bosch as he fights enemies within the police department and his conflicting urges for justice and vengeance.

For another tough PI, get to know Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer; The Underground Man has it all–a fire in the hills, a missing child, and Southern California’s special brand of moral ambiguity.

I’m also a fan of Jonathan Kellerman’s child psychologist sleuth Alex Delaware, who helps the police root out the evil hiding under So Cal’s sunny glam. A good starting point is the Edgar Award-winning When the Bough Breaks, in which Delaware tries to unlock the memory of a 7-year-old girl, the only witness to the murder of a fraudulent, sexually manipulative psychiatrist.

Finally, for a very different angle on L.A, get to know Easy Rawlins, Walter Mosley’s African-American sleuth. In the series debut, Devil in a Blue Dress, watch Rawlins transform from Watts day laborer to private detective. For more L.A. noir gems, see Jonathan Kellerman’s recommendations at http://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/mar/31/jonathan-kellerman-top-10-la-noir-novels

ABOUT  KATHERINE SHARMA

Katherine Sharma’s family roots are in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas. But after her early childhood in Texas, she has moved around the country and lived in seven other states, from Virginia to Hawaii. She currently resides in California with her husband and three children. She has also traveled extensively in Europe, Africa and Asia, and makes regular visits to family in India. After receiving her bachelor’s degree. in economics and her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Michigan, Katherine worked as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor for more than 15 years. She then shifted into management and marketing roles for firms in industries ranging from outdoor recreation to insurance to direct marketing. Although Katherine still works as a marketing consultant, she is now focused on creative writing.

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