Best Book of the Year
The Los Angeles Times • The Washington Post
Los Angeles was the fastest growing city in the world, mad with oil fever, get-rich-quick schemes, and celebrity scandals. It was also rife with organized crime, with a mayor in the pocket of the syndicates and a DA taking bribes to throw trials. In A Bright and Guilty Place, Richard Rayner narrates the entwined lives of two men, Dave Clark and Leslie White, who were caught up in the crimes, murders, and swindles of the day. Over a few transformative years, as the boom times shaded into the Depression, the adventures of Clark and White would inspire pulp fiction and replace L.A.’s reckless optimism with a new cynicism. Together, theirs is the tale of how the city of sunshine went noir.
In his unfocused history of crime-ridden Los Angeles in the 1920s, nonfiction writer and novelist Rayner (The Associates) touches on too many scandals and scandalous characters to make his account coherent. Leslie White, the young and idealistic DA's investigator (and, later, pulp fiction writer) seems like the only honest man in town, especially compared with the likes of promising prosecutor-turned-murder-suspect Dave Clark. Before the Depression hit, L.A. was swimming in wealth, not only from the burgeoning Hollywood studios but also from the oil boom. White saw firsthand how deep the city's corruption ran, from organized crime boss Charlie Crawford's "System," whose tentacles reached the highest echelons of politics and law enforcement, to the press, always ravenous for another sensational story, a "circulation-boosting crusade." Crawford's brutal murder in 1931 and star prosecutor Clark's emergence as the prime suspect is only one of the tales Rayner touches on in his chaotic chronicle of the city. Despite cameos by familiar faces including noir master Raymond Chandler readers may be overwhelmed by the onslaught of details, intriguing as they might be.