There is a spoiler: I haven’t been to Los Angeles. In the 1980s, heavy metal videos like “Fallen Angel” by Poison and movies like Pee-Big Wee’s Adventure and The Grifters helped me learn about the City of Angels. In Die Hard, the city is home to the building where the movie was filmed, and also Hollywood itself. To become a star, it’s where the magic happens, but dreams are also broken there every day. It’s like rolling the dice! This is why I love books set in LA and made this list of the 10 best books about LA.
because L.A. has so much flash and money and great books about stars who rise or fall. There are also books about cons and crimes. People who live in the city have a seedy side beneath all of the glitz and glamour. This makes the city an ideal setting for hardboiled detective stories. In the 1930s, the genre of noir was born in Los Angeles. A lot of the best noir writing is set there, because that’s where it all began. Afterward, there are all the crazy stories about the city. It has some of everything. Take a seat in your limousine’s hot tub, put on your sunglasses, and be ready to be amazed.
The White Boy Shuffle by Paul Beatty
This is the first book by Beatty, the best-selling author of The Sellout. Gunnar Kaufman is a teenager who thinks things will be bad when his mom moves them from Santa Monica to LA. It doesn’t work out that way for Gunnar. He goes from being a loser to being a star on the basketball team and a hero at his high school instead. You don’t need to be fooled by the description of teenage drama: this book is a lot of fun, clever, and wild.
Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha
And this great crime book is about two families who are linked by two crimes that happened two decades apart. During the protests over a police shooting in the 1990s, there is a violent act that changes Shawn Matthews’s life for the worse. Twenty years later, Grace Park’s family will have their own tragedy that will break their peaceful lives and show Grace things she didn’t know. Cha tells a fiery story in this best-selling book about family, race, violence, and revenge.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
This is widely thought to be the best book in the noir genre. The famous private eye Philip Marlowe made his debut in this book. To find out who is blackmailing the mogul’s daughter, Marlowe is hired by an old man who is dying. When he looks into the case, the detective ends up getting into sex, kidnapping, and murder while he’s in the dark side of the city. The famous movie version of this book was made in 1945 and stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
It’s almost always the first name that comes to mind when people think of LA authors. There are three places where this book takes place: Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the Mojave Desert. It’s a hard-hitting look at American life in the 1960s. Maria is a young woman who is recovering from a nervous breakdown at a psychiatric facility. It then turns into a brutal look at excess and boredom.
White Oleander by Janet Fitch
This is a great book about a young woman named Astrid. When Astrid was a child, her poet mother, Ingrid, took care of her alone. She goes to prison, and Astrid is put in the system when she does something bad. Spends most of her time being cared for by foster parents, coping with life without her mother, and working toward a future where she can be herself without her mother. In the movie version, Astrid is played by Alison Lohman, who also played Astrid in the movie version of Matchstick Men.
In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes
This is another great piece of L.A. noir. It talks about how people in post-World War II America were misogynistic. After the war, Dix Steele, who used to be a fighter pilot, has to figure out how to get around the city. He thinks that the world owes him something. There’s a lot more going on when he runs into an old friend who is now a cop with the LAPD and is looking for the man who is strangling young women all over the city. If you buy the NYRB Classics edition, it comes with a great afterword by Megan Abbott, who is a great author.
Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
There are a lot of African American people in the first book in Mosley’s long-running Easy Rawlins series in Watts, in southern Los Angeles. An unemployed Black veteran named Easy meets a rich man in a bar one day. He has a lot of money. To find Miss Daphne Monet, the man tells Easy that he will give him money. She is a blonde woman who often goes to Black jazz clubs. But this money isn’t easy, and soon Easy is in trouble.
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Following the fall of Saigon, the narrator, who has not been named, moves to Los Angeles, where he works as a communist double agent. From there, he tells his superiors in Vietnam about the other Vietnamese refugees in LA. I think it’s a great story about loyalty and war, but I don’t think it’s very good. As soon as possible, there will be a TV show about it.
Southland by Nina Revoyr
Her grandfather died, and after her grandfather died, a young Japanese American woman learned that he was the owner of a store where four Black boys died in the 1965 Watts Riot. In order to find out what happened that day and what secrets have been kept from her, she gets help from the cousin of one of the victims. She goes back in time with the help of the cousin. Southland is a story about family, race, and history that is very moving. It’s also a good movie.
The Grifters by Jim Thompson
In the end, this dark and heartbreaking story about Roy, a conman, and the two women in his life: Lily, his mother, and Moira. Only Lily knows that Roy is also a con artist. When both women are pressuring him for more, a con goes awry, and now the stakes are very high. Books set in the 1960s, but the movie is set in the late 1980s. If you like weird stories, I recommend both the book and the movie.