The second in our series of great travel reads sees us heading west to Los Angeles, which despite being blessed with year-round sunshine, is one of the shadiest cities on earth – in literary terms at least.
Noir fiction and hardboiled detective stories are an intrinsic part of Los Angeles’ literary history, with a tradition passed down from legendary writers like Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain to late twentieth century successors such as James Ellroy – author of the classic neo-noir novel L.A. Confidential. Works from these and other writers are featured in our recommended list of Los Angeles fiction, to get you in the mood for your trip to the City of Angels…
The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler
We’re kicking things off with The Long Goodbye, though any of Chandler’s seven novels are worthy of a place in this list. But the author of The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely himself proclaimed this to be his finest work, and who are we to disagree. This is ice-cool Private Investigator Philip Marlowe at his most caustic, sentimental and weary.
The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
Nathanael West’s excoriating indictment of Hollywood during the Great Depression was way ahead of its time. The novel ventures into territory far beyond the movie industry’s shiny facade to reveal a cast of power-hungry scoundrels, obnoxious child stars and the various misfits and oddballs who were invariably drawn to L.A.
Ask the Dust by John Fante
Out of print for many years, this is now considered to be one of the great Los Angeles novels, having attained cult status in the latter part of the twentieth century. Ask the Dust tells the story of Arturo Bandini, an author struggling to make ends meet in 1930s L.A., and his ultimately tragic relationship with a volatile Mexican waitress.
Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
Later adapted for the screen by fellow novelist Raymond Chandler, Double Indemnity is the classic tale of insurance salesman Walter Huff, who is seduced by a married woman into helping her murder her husband for the insurance money.
Hollywood by Charles Bukowski
In the guise of his alter-ego Harry Chinaski, this is the fictionalised version of the time Bukowksi spent working on the screenplay of the film Barfly, loosely based on his own life and starring Mickey Rourke as himself with Faye Dunaway as his love interest. The book is a candid, somewhat drunken take on the process he endured to get it made.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
Mosley’s 1990 debut novel was an immediate success and instantly established him as a great new American writer. Set in late 1940s L.A., the book centres around Easy Rawlins, a black war veteran recently fired from his job, who falls into a detective role when asked to find a young white woman with a questionable reputation.
L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
An epic, gritty and fast-paced work of crime fiction, L.A. Confidential is the multi-layered story of three LAPD officers in the 1950s, who become caught up in the fall out from a mass murder at a coffee shop and eventually mixed up in corruption, drug trafficking and organised crime.
North of Montana by April Smith
Ana Grey is an FBI Special Agent who is given a tough, high-profile case to solve in this psychological and suspenseful thriller. Sent to investigate a doctor who’s prescribing illegal medication to a beloved Hollywood actress, she quickly realises that all is not what it seems.
Paint it Black by Janet Fitch
Artist’s model, teenage dropout and bohemian rock scene hanger-on, Josie Tyrell is a troubled young woman searching for answers after the death of her pianist lover, as his mother holds her responsible for his demise. The narrative explores the two women’s dysfunctional relationship against a pitch-perfect backdrop of the 1980s Los Angeles punk scene.
The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse
Skyhorse’s debut novel vividly captures the spirit of 1980s East L.A. and the intersection of Mexican-American characters and culture in the working class neighbourhood of Echo Park. The novel explores what it means to belong, and the complicated nature of multicultural identity in the relentless pursuit of the American Dream.
If you’ve got any books to add to this list, we’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments below. And don’t forget to check out our previous travel reads for New York if you’re heading to the East Coast.
Virgin Atlantic operates daily direct flights to Los Angeles from London Heathrow.
Header photo © Todd Jones Photography