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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating history, well told
"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...
Published on July 19, 2009 by H. F. Gibbard

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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched But Lacking A Soul
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...
Published on March 27, 2010 by TMStyles


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71 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating history, well told, July 19, 2009
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"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.
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30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well Researched But Lacking A Soul, March 27, 2010
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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.
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47 of 56 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy Beginning, Muddled Middle, Uneven Ending, June 30, 2009
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Grey Wolffe "Zeb Kantrowitz" (North Waltham, MA United States) - See all my reviews
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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
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Treatment of L.A. History, May 29, 2014
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Patrick Knox (Los Angeles, California, USA) - See all my reviews
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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.
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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, October 10, 2009
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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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Epic View of L.A. in the 20th Century, July 11, 2013
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I'm a big fan of old film noir, not such a fan of the old police docu-dramas. I've always loved watching the old TV shows like S.W.A.T and CHiPs, but I never enjoyed Dragnet or Adam-12. However...the new movie Gangster Squad really grabbed my attention, as did the recent video game L.A. Noir. So when I came across this book by John Buntin, I hoped it was as good as it looked. It was better, which is amazing, because that front cover is darned near perfect.

Buntin takes the story of LA's gangsters and the LAPD from the early 1900's up to the 1990's. He does so by following the careers of the two most prominent men from both sides of the law in Los Angeles: police officer Bill Parker and gangster Mickey Cohen. What follows is a fascinating tale of politics, crime, corruption, and the growth of a small California town into one of the largest and most racially complex cities in the United States.

What I liked most about this book was the way it bridged a number of eras into one seamless narrative. I look at the various eras of history through the lenses of movie and television cameras. The 1920's and 30's are characterized by the shaky, blurry black and white film that captured Los Angeles we know from movies like Charlie Chaplin's and early gangster flicks. There's the clearer yet darker film of the 1940's and 50's, showcasing the flashy yet dangerous L.A.of film noir. Early color TV and film was desaturated, low-keyed, as we watched Joe Friday and Malloy and Reed patrol the streets and track down criminals. A more colorful Los Angeles emerges in the 1970's and 80's, both racially and pop-culturally, midst the action of S.W.A.T. and Hunter, to name just a few TV shows, and countless movies. By the 1990's my view of Los Angeles was seen mostly through CNN, highlighted, or course, by the Rodney King beating and subsequent riots.

Why have I mentioned all of this? Because in L.A. Noir, the author ties all of these eras together, and you can see how crime and law grew and transformed along with this city. Yet, he does it through the viewpoints of two very unique people. Mickey Cohen is not your average gangster. He can be very peculiar, magnanimous, charming, and confounding. Parker, the career cop who becomes a Police Chief of legend, is just as strange. He is courageous in his youth, petulant to his superiors, naive to the ways of his fellow officers, politically ambitious, petty, yet quite the visionary as an administrator. His racial biases contribute to the Watts riots, which directly effects the eventual troubles surrounding the Rodney King stories.

Of particular interest was the shocking end of both men. If you don't know what happened to them, as I didn't, don't spoil the book by looking it up on wikipedia. Just read the book. The story is compelling, frustrating, sensational, funny (yes, there are many humorous moments), unbelievable, and terribly tragic. But through it all you might just come away with a new perspective on a police force that has been historically reviled.

Kudos to John Buntin for his exhaustive research and craftsmanship with his pen.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dark Side of the Glittering City, July 14, 2009
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This enjoyable book examines Los Angeles during the Twentieth Century, and especially at mid-century. Unless you are an expert on Los Angeles, you will find plenty of surprises in an enthralling story of the glamorous city. El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles began as an arid village adjacent to the Pacific. It had no great harbor to attract commerce, as was the case with San Francisco, so it didn't appear to have much of a future. But we must not forget American salesmanship (the used car variety). With its name shortened to Los Angeles, developers advertised it as "the white spot of America," a peaceful place for native-born, white Protestants to come and live in the sunshine. And come they did. By 1920, Los Angeles surpassed San Francisco as the West's biggest city. It got a further boost from the motion picture industry and aircraft production. Thus, Los Angeles just kept growing. But under the sparkling facade, it had crime, dirty politics, and police brutality. Three groups dominated Los Angeles as it weathered the depression of the 1930s - politicians, criminals, and the police. They formed constantly-changing alliances to keep a grip on the the city and its citizens. This grip continued during the massive influx of people in World War Two, and for years after. Two men stood out during this time - Mickey Cohen, the gangster, and William Parker, Chief of Police. I lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena during the 1950s, and I could always depend on one of them to provide something in the pages of the Los Angeles Times. Mickey Cohen was an enforcer for mob boss Bugsy Siegel. But when Siegel moved from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Cohen became the kingpin in Los Angeles, and he enjoyed a charmed life with movie stars (especially women) and politicians, while he had an amazing ability to avoid prison. Parker was a straight-laced product of the midwest. He was for morality and against crime and communists. The lives of these men are woven through the story, and a fascinating, even exciting, tale it is.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars City of No Angels, July 5, 2009
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Within Los Angeles, there has lately been debate on the name of the new LAPD headquarters. The old one is called Parker Center after the Department's most prominent police chief, but a lot of people felt that that recognition of William Parker should go out with the building. Parker, it was argued, was not only a relic of the past, but not that great a person either. Of course, as a man who died over forty years ago, it's understandable that not much may be known about him (particularly outside the city). John Buntin's history of crime in 20th Century Los Angeles, L.A. Noir, provides some insights.

Actually, L.A. Noir is a pair of parallel biographies, both of William Parker and gangster Mickey Cohen. More than that, it is the biography of a city as it evolved from a sleepy small town to a major metropolis. In the early days, corruption was rife in both the LAPD and the city government. Parker was a major force in cleaning up the Department. Cohen, on the other hand, would be a major force in dirtying up the city. A protégé of Bugsy Siegel, he would become one of the most prominent crime figures in L.A., particularly after Siegel's death.

As with the biggest name in organized crime, Al Capone, Cohen would get most of his prison time for tax evasion, while his other crimes (including murder) would basically go unpunished. Parker, meanwhile, would rise through the LAPD ranks principally due to his anti-corruption efforts. He'd be a leader in the early Internal Affairs division before becoming chief. Despite the many ways he improved the LAPD, his tenure would also have its problems, from the Bloody Christmas episode (depicted in L.A. Confidential) through the Watts riots. (Interestingly, Parker's own protégé, future chief Daryl Gates, would eventually also be undone by riots, not having learned from Parker's mistakes of 1965.)

Buntin portrays Parker as ambitious and honest, but also a borderline racist (though many of his actions were motivated more by ignorance than hate). Cohen is more of a character who could be both vicious and not that bright, but also with a certain charm. There are plenty of other people in this story as well, from actors like George Raft and Lana Turner to political figures like J. Edgar Hoover and the Kennedy brothers to big name crooks like Siegel and Capone. Though this is a history book, it is never dry reading. Buntin has put together an entertaining narrative of a city's history, one that has inspired countless movies and books. Love it or hate it, L.A. is definitely one of the most interesting cities in the country, and L.A. Noir shows why this is the case.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand LA or the fiction of James Ellroy, June 25, 2009
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Jeff (Northern California) - See all my reviews
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Author John Buntin deserves credit for having written a helluva book. It's not that the story wasn't always there to be told, but that no one had done all of the primary research necessary to string the story together in the way Buntin did.

There are a few things to quibble about. The editor doesn't seem to know what the F7 key is good for in MS Word (spelling and grammar checking). The footnotes in the 'advanced publication' edition all refer to 'Page 000' and some of the marketing blurbs are over the top. The book has not a single picture of the involved parties, even though denizens of LA were amongst the most photographed people on the planet. And a map of LA would have been really helpful to people not familiar with it when discussing the Watts riots.

But the book itself is a marvel. Many truly larger than life characters are wrought in fine detail here, principally Chief of Police William Parker and underworld figure Mickey Cohen. However, readers will also see Bugsy Siegel, J. Edgar Hoover, Robert Kennedy, Lana Turner, Mike Wallace, Billy Graham taking star turns in the tale. And the reader will be introduced to lesser well known characters such as Johnny Stompanato, stripper Candy Barr, and LA mayor Norris Poulton.

Some of this material will be familiar to fans of James Ellroy's fine works. I had always assume he took a few isolated incidents and exaggerated them to achieve the particular kind of horrific deeds that fill the pages of The Big Nowhere and particularly L.A. Confidential.

Having read L.A. Noir, I think Ellroy may have dialed back the facts a little bit, fearful that the public would find the truth too unbelievable to credit. Whether it is routine use of burglary by the LAPD to insert Dictaphones in suspect's homes, or the 'missed it by that much' conversion of Jewish gangster Mickey Cohen to Christianity by Billy Graham in Madison Square Garder, the book brims over with fantastic anecdotes that Buntin has cleverly and thoroughly told.

At the end of it, the reader is left with an appreciation for just how unique LA was during that time, and why it casts such a huge shadow across American culture and the perception of America abroad.

Thanks to John Buntin for producing a work of historical research that reads like a crime novel and constantly informs and amuses.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The title misleads, but the book delivers, May 19, 2014
This review is from: L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City (Paperback)
This book captures, in all its unloveliness, the pimply adolescence of a great American city, gangling, fast-growing, egocentric, and immune to sensible advice. The book's loci are the irreconcilable adversaries -- hoodlum Mickey Cohen, and career cop (he hated the term cop) William Parker. But their two stories encompass the stories of a vast cavalcade of political, media, entertainment industry, and organized crime movers and shakers. Some of Buntin's judgments are off, but the total effect is to make the naive view of civic and world affairs utterly untenable.

I hope he writes a sequel about the conquest of Los Angeles in its last quarter century, under what has effectively been one party rule, by its public employee unions and their enablers, the increasingly concentrated oligomedia, heading toward monomedia..
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L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City
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