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L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of…

L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City (2009)

by John Buntin

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While the description makes the reader envision a book about cops and mobsters, this is really a history of LA and the LAPD using mobster Mickey Cohen as the primary antagonist.

As a history of the LAPD, Buntin describes the long battle LAPD fought against corruption internally and externally. I liked how the author gradually brought to the fore the dichotomy between a corrupt police force that can be held accountable by elected politicians with all shades of integrity/ character versus a professional, disciplined, and forward-thinking (methodology-wise) police force under independent civil servants that was out-of-touch with and tone-deaf to the communities they served.

As a history of LA, the author weaves the narrative around the major events of the times - in no particular order: Bobby Kennedy's assassination, the 1960 Democratic Convention, the rise of major industry in LA, the advent of smog after WW2, WW2, Prohibition, the repeal of Prohibition, civil rights, the Great Depression, the Okies, changing demographics,...

Make no mistake, Mickey Cohen takes up many pages, but somehow the struggle never became personal for me. It just seems like he was the chosen representative for the corrupting and corrosive forces. Rather than 2 lines that intersect into an explosion, Parker/ LAPD and Mickey Cohen/ Syndicate are 2 threads woven together but never pulled taut. ( )
  Hae-Yu | May 21, 2016 |
Couldn't get into it ( )
  cjordan916 | Apr 9, 2016 |
Like the author says in the epilogue, my knowledge of Chief Parker was Parker Center in downtown and when I thought of corruption in America, I instantly thought of Chicago. This book is a good history of the seamy side of Los Angeles, in both the official and underworld side. I must say though, the main impression I took from this book is that LA would be a far nicer place if William Parker (and by extension Daryl Gates) hadn't been chief of the LAPD. Mickey Cohen is a far more sympathetic character. ( )
  hhornblower | Feb 10, 2012 |
Although L.A. Noir focuses on the story of two men, mobster Mickey Cohen and Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker, it provides lots of insight into the mindset and machinations of the LAPD from the 1920s up through the 1960s. It ably describes the corruption that ran rampant through the department and challenges faced by those who set out to change it.

As a side note, Noir should be considered required reading by anybody with an appreciation of the hard-bitten crime novels of 20th century Los Angeles; from Raymond Chandler to Michael Connelly. Reading L.A. Noir has left me with an itch to revisit such classic works of fiction as L.A. Confidential, Devil in a Blue Dress, and Farewell My Lovely, along with such great movies as Chinatown and Changeling. ( )
  Unkletom | Mar 20, 2010 |
Just finished this. Found it to be a very interesting history/biography of the LAPD and two central figures.

William H. Parker, the longest serving chief of the LAPD and Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen, criminal boss of Los Angeles after his mentor Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel went to Las Vegas.

Some interesting name dropping. Gene Roddenberry was an officer in the LAPD.

Others pass in and out of the narrative. Robert Kennedy, Malcom X, Ben Hecht, Mike Wallace, J. Edgar Hoover, Reverend Billy Graham and Jack Webb.

This is not an exhaustive history, but does give a good overview of the period from the twenties to the sixties.
  OldSarge | Sep 7, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307352072, Hardcover)

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."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:42 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A journalist and case writer presents a social history of Los Angeles, from Prohibition to the Watts riots, focusing on the long-running war between notorious gangster Mickey Cohen, and the man who would become the city's most famous police chief, William H. Parker.… (more)

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