The Easy Rawlins mysteries by Walter Mosley
The L.A. Quartet by James Ellroy
Recently, Brady wrote about the three biggies of hard-boiled California crime, Hammett, Chandler, and MacDonald.
Of course, the tradition doesn't end there. Just as MacDonald picked up the torch from Chandler, writers like Walter Mosley and James Ellroy have taken vintage L.A. crime novel touchstones -- flophouse rousts, tailing hopped-up blondes down Sunset Boulevard, and the like -- and made them very much their own.
Mosley's Easy Rawlins isn't a private detective, but, as a black man clinging tenously to a middle class, home-owning existence in 1940s Los Angeles, he's nudged into the role because it pays the bills. Specifically because he's not a PI or a cop, Rawlins can go where other people can't, win confidences, and get the hot leads. And in a genre where black men are usually fall guys and small-timers, and cops don't pay much attention to criminal activity south of the 10 freeway, Mosley's depiction of L.A.'s black community in the 1940s through the 1960s is unparalleled.
While Mosley is often compared to Chandler, this is less frequently said of James Ellroy. This is because Ellroy writes like a damned thug. His heroes are only marginally passable as specimens of humanity, the crimes committed are depraved and gruesome, and racial slurs fly like buckshot. But the man can tell a story, and does things that will make your head spin (in a good way). The moment I found myself rooting for Jack Vincennes and Ed Exley in L.A. Confidential, I actually worried about the state of my soul.
Since both Mosley and Ellroy write about the same period of L.A. history, read together, you get an interesting picture of the two L.A.s, occasionally acknowledging the other's existence, usually bloodily.
Both are terrific, if you've got the stomach for it. If you like the classic detective noir, and are looking for something edgier, these books are for you.
A list of the 10 Easy Rawlins mysteries is here, and the L.A. Quartet is here.