L.A. Noir: The Strug­gle for the Soul of Amer­i­ca’s Most Seduc­tive City

John Buntin
  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
In this ency­clo­pe­dic dou­ble biog­ra­phy author John Buntin digs the dirt…and the clean…that mod­ern­ized Los Ange­les so that the city becomes the volume’s third pro­tag­o­nist along with its noto­ri­ous gang­ster, the col­or­ful Mick­ey Cohen (who did not learn to read until he was 30 some­thing) and its most famous police chief, William Park­er (who became a police­man to pay for law school). Mov­ing chrono­log­i­cal­ly from the 1920’s to the 1970’s, Buntin alter­nates his focus between the two men. He reveals actions and reac­tions which changed polic­ing, pol­i­tics, and race rela­tions, some changes the result of Park­er vs. Cohen, some the result of pass­ing time and tide. Every detail you could ever imag­ine about Cohen, Park­er, and the peo­ple involved with them is includ­ed. Many are fun facts; all are inter­est­ing; the sheer num­ber makes daunt­ing read­ing. 

Cohen arrived from Brook­lyn as a tod­dler; Park­er from Dead­wood as a teenag­er. Both made an indeli­ble mark on their new home­town; read­ers learn how and why. Park­er takes on the city coun­cil for pow­er; stalks Cohen to defeat the under­world and its police ties. Vignettes include Pro­hi­bi­tion, the Kefau­ver hear­ings, Drag­net, Watts Riots; Kennedy con­nec­tions and killing; Rod­ney King, and Gene Rod­den­ber­ry, who wrote speech­es for Park­er before Star Trek, in addi­tion to fail­ings of the main per­son­al­i­ties: one drank, one washed hun­dreds of times dai­ly (guess which did which!). Parker’s sto­ry is more sus­pense­ful; Cohen’s includes hind­sight hilar­i­ty with his con­ver­sion brush with Bil­ly Gra­ham and his wild inter­view with Mike Wal­lace where hes­lan­dered Park­er. It is dis­turb­ing to bask in the fame of a Jew, famous because he broke many of the Ten Com­mand­ments, espe­cial­ly mur­der. As much infor­ma­tion as the book con­tains about the city, there is scant if any about LA’s Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion and their reac­tion to Cohen as he acts before their eyes.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

Discussion Questions