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L.A. '56: A Devil in the City of Angels Hardcover – April 10, 2012


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (April 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312591942
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312591946
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #127,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Engel uses a wrongful conviction case to illuminate the racism and corruption rampant in the LAPD before the first reforms. In 1956, Willie Roscoe Fields, who went AWOL during WWII and had been AWOL from the job scene pretty much ever since, found a skill he used over and over again, impersonating a cop in lovers’ lanes, separating couples, and raping the young woman involved, usually white, as he pretended to drive her to the station house. The LAPD pinned the crimes on a black former cop, who had been ostracized for dating a white woman. A Latino detective was the only cop to sense or care that the wrong man had been convicted and sent to prison. His pursuit of justice serves as the backbone of the book. This is both an examination of an especially distressing racist rush to judgment and an intriguing portrait of L.A. and the LAPD in the ’50s. As such, it should interest James Ellroy fans. --Connie Fletcher

Review

“True-crime story of rape and racism in postwar Los Angeles. The narrative has all the elements of a classic film noir and then some: a handsome detective who falls for a beautiful crime victim who narrowly escapes the clutches of a monstrous rapist; the innocent man, railroaded into jail for a capital crime he didn’t commit by the prejudiced police of a corrupt city; a surprise ending with a stakeout and shootout that brings about justice in the end. But this being a story based on real life, the epilogue is not so tidy, least of all for the railroaded suspect, an African-American ex-cop who’d been forced out of the department for dating a white woman. In the summer of 1956, Los Angeles was in the thrall of a serial rapist who trolled lovers’ lanes in tonier districts with a toy sheriff’s badge and a flashlight. He would interrupt young lovers, flash his badge and threaten to arrest the couple for vice crimes. Then he would deposit the young man a few blocks away and return for his prey. On his trail was the talented detective Danny Galindo, a Mexican-American war hero and friend of Dragnet’s Jack Webb, who would feed him the occasional story line. (“Give it to Galindo,” a catchphrase on the show, was Webb’s way of tipping his hat to his LAPD pal.) Galindo worked on some of the city’s most notorious crimes, from the Black Dahlia to the Manson Family murders, but he was particularly proud of this case in which he freed an innocent man and found true love. Engel (Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek, 1994, etc.) gets in the head of the rapist, which may be taking liberties with the facts, but it makes for a riveting, novelistic read. Disturbing social history in the form of a fast-paced thriller.”—Kirkus

“A gritty, vivid snapshot of Fifties L.A. and its seamy demimonde.”—Marvin J. Wolf, bestselling author of Fallen Angels: Chronicles of L.A. Crime and Mystery

"Joel Engel’s riveting L.A. ’56: A Devil in the City of Angels has it all: a cast of fascinating real-life characters, police procedural as rough-and-tumble as a fifties film noir and a tale steeped equally with ambition, brutality, and rue as any true Los Angeles story."—Megan Abbott, Edgar award-winning author of The End of Everything and Bury Me Deep 

"Horrifying, illuminating, and totally engrossing. Joel Engel’s book tells the story of a sex-crazed criminal, an innocent man set up by a racist police force, and the brave cop who stepped forward to stop the man, and uses it to cut deeply into the dark heart of Jim Crow L.A. Philip Marlowe, Easy Rawlins, meet Detective Danny Galindo. He — and this book — are the real thing.”—John Buntin, author of L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City

“Engel, a former New York Times and L.A. Times reporter (What Would Martin Say?), has expanded the concept of “the wrong man” in his blistering true crime book of a serial rapist’s reign of terror in the Jim Crow Los Angeles of the mid–late 1950s. In the author’s gritty account of a tormented Willie Roscoe Fields, a war-weary veteran once sentenced for attempted rape, he gives a snappy, hard-edged feel to this black man’s terrifying sexual rampage against women snatched from cars in the city’s lovers’ lanes. The insightful narrative puts the brutal, senseless incidents at the core of the book in context with snippets of historical events of racism, betrayal, and police corruption. When Todd Roark, a black LAPD cop, is pulled in for the rapes in retaliation for dating a white woman, only one officer believes in his innocence and sets a clever trap to snare the real criminal. In a crowded field of fine true crime authors, Engel makes sure that all of the dots are connected and justice has its say.”—Publishers Weekly

“When we think of Los Angeles in the fifties, things like Dragnet, the Brown Derby, Alfred Hitchcock, and movie stars lounging around sun-drenched pools immediately jump to mind.  Rarely do crosses burned into lawns, segregated diners, racially motivated beatings, and gruesome murders interrupt this vision of Hollywood’s Golden Age.  In Engel’s book, L.A. ’56, he takes us into the depths of one of America’s most segregated cities on the hunt for a serial rapist and shows us this darker side of LA. This true story centers on Detective Danny Galindo, an officer dedicated to freeing his friend and former colleague, who Galindo believes is falsely accused of raping several women.  His friend, ex-LAPD officer Todd Roark, has recently been fired from the force for the heinous act of fathering a child with a white woman.  With the most tenuous evidence, Roark is imprisoned and the case is considered closed by all involved.  Latino officer Galindo takes it upon himself to accomplish a nearly impossible task; convince a predominantly white police force that Roark is innocent, while trying to catch the real rapist who continues to stalk women parked in lover’s lanes with their sweethearts around the city.
Engle takes us on a thrilling hunt, chasing a monster through the streets of LA.  Walking alongside the fascinating Galindo and, alternatively, the twisted stalker hunting his prey in the darkness keeps the tension level high throughout the entire book.  Interspersed between these men are articles from newspapers of the day illustrating how radically segregated the city was and how dangerous it could be to break those lines.  The author does an excellent job of showing the shining city that tempted so many to its sunny streets, as well as, the darkness that lay just beneath its surface.  A book that will appeal to true crime fans, as well as those who love a great noir tale, L.A. ’56 is a one not to be missed.” —Bryan VanMeter, CrimeSpree Magazine

 "Engel uses a wrongful conviction case to illuminate the racism and corruption rampant in the LAPD before the first reforms. In 1956, Willie Roscoe Fields, who went AWOL during WWII and had been AWOL from the job scene pretty much ever since, found a skill he used over and over again, impersonating a cop in lovers’ lanes, separating couples, and raping the young woman involved, usually white, as he pretended to drive her to the station house. The LAPD pinned the crimes on a black former cop, who had been ostracized for dating a white woman. A Latino detective was the only cop to sense or care that the wrong man had been convicted and sent to prison. His pursuit of justice serves as the backbone of the book. This is both an examination of an especially distressing racist rush to judgment and an intriguing portrait of L.A. and the LAPD in the ’50s. As such, it should interest James Ellroy fans." —Booklist


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Customer Reviews

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L.A. '56 is one the rare true-crime book that reads like fiction.
Jonathan V. Last
In this thrilling fast-paced page-turner, Engel writes in a lively style that makes it easy to visualize every gripping scene as if you're watching a film noir.
Anthony Eden
I could not put this book down and when It ended, I was left wanting to read more.
Anthony Grasso

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Anthony Eden on April 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Joel Engel does a masterful job of taking the reader back more than a half century to a Los Angeles that few of us have ever seen in film or books--a dark city of racial hatred and segregation, of cross-burnings and beatings, of bigoted cops and a prejudiced press.
With the flair of a crime novelist and the skill of an investigative reporter, Engel writes a compelling narrative that reads like fiction but is all true. He expertly weaves real-life events and excerpts from African-American newspapers to put into historical context this gripping story of a black serial rapist, a black ex-cop wrongly accused of the crimes, and the Latino detective who nabs the real attacker.
In this thrilling fast-paced page-turner, Engel writes in a lively style that makes it easy to visualize every gripping scene as if you're watching a film noir. The author's attention to detail from that era---the clothes, the slang and signs for businesses and brands that no longer exist---keep the reader tuned in to the times. He also draws the reader into the minds of the three main characters, whose lives take a few unexpected twists and turns before justice prevails.
It's one of those books where the first page is as riveting as the last. A great read.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Brian Baker VINE VOICE on April 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a true-crime book, and I found it throroughly enjoyable. It was very reminiscent of Wambaugh's "Onion Fields" -- though with a far happier ending -- and Ellroy's "LA Confidential" (without all the police corruption plotting). Throw in a bit of Dunne's "True Confessions" and you have the formula.

It's easy to forget that there was a time when the LAPD was a rough-and-tumble outfit that in many cases acted like vigiliantes with badges, but it was so. Engel's book takes us back to the time when they were in transition from the old era to the new.

He captures the era with his descriptions of the settings, and his central character -- Danny Galindo -- is a fascintaing guy. He worked the Black Dahlia murder, as well as the Tate-LoBianco/Manson case. He was a former POW during WW2, having been shot down as part of the crew of a bomber. Really interesting stuff.

Engel's style is easy and free-flowing. Good book. Get it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"L.A. '56" is noir at its finest.
Joel Engel is excellent at recreating the world of 1956 Los Angeles. From the description of the city, the cars, the radio and television broadcasts, you are experiencing a tour of that time as if you are actually there.

Comparisons to James Ellroy are inevitable, but here's the difference. In Ellroy's world, EVERYONE is corrupt, violent, homicidal, suicidal, sexually depraved, or just plain nuts. Read one of his novels, and you will be reaching for a handful of Sleep-Eze and a glass of water to wash em down, depressed as you get. Engel's Los Angeles, while harsh and violent, is hardly Dante's Inferno. The struggle for the LAPD to rebuild it's image from it's corrupt past, the racism of the time, the shining "come on" of Hollywood and the stark reality behind the illusion is presented matter of factly.

Danny Galindo, the protagonist in this account, was a real police detective in LA, and this book is based on a true story. I had hopes that this could be the start of a series of "true crime" cases featuring Galindo (who was involved in famous cases such as the infamous "Black Dahlia" and the Manson Family murders), but a brief message from Engel to me has disappointed those hopes.

The name dropping of famous Hollywood figures is handled skillfully. Galindo is a contributor of stories to the television show "Dragnet", and a pleasing cameo by none other than "Joe Friday" himself, Jack Webb, results in a major plot point in the story.

Another offhand mention of a name very familiar to "Star Trek" fans everywhere was a surprise to me, in the context of the story. You learn something new everyday, I guess!

Definitely worth reading, I devoured it in a matter of just a few hours, hoping for more. If you like "LA noir", you will like this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Arlene C. Germann on May 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An unforgettable story told in a most unique style. I am an Angeleno (from L.A.) so this tale of a man and a woman who belonged to this city nailed down all of my attention. The detective and the plucky near-victim meet in Los Angeles through their respective interests in a dangerous person. Each of them take on heroic dimensions as they work together to stop an evil. Then they marry and live happily ever after in the City of Angels. True story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Filly From Philly on May 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Superior true crime. Bisecting the timeline between the Black Dahlia and Helter Skelter, Engel masterfully takes us inside the heads (using present tense!) of the bad guy, the good cop, and the falsely accused. Builds excruciatingly to a shoot'em up finish--and every word is true. The cameo by Hitchcock says it all.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Henry Bud Johnson on June 2, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was browsing on my Kindle Fire and happen to find L.A. 56, by Joel Engel. I subsequently purchased this book and, "boy I am glad I did."
I spent my career as a police officer in the Los Angeles area was from 1978, until 2011. I am retired and still cannot "leave the job." I love to read police novels, both fiction and non-fiction. I am unusually very critical about the books that I read.
L.A. 56 takes place before I came on the job, however, I was a child when this event took place. I found that Joel Engel did a great job with the real-life characters.
This book is about a Hispanic Detective, Danny Galindo, a Serial Rapist, Willie Fields, and a Black Detective that is wrongly accused of a crime. I want to be extremely careful about revealing too much, because I want the readers to have the same enjoyment that I had.
I will say that I was unable to put this book down. I really enjoyed L.A. 56 and highly recommend it.
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