L. A. Writers: Michael Connelly

Why Is It That So Many L. A. Writers Are Mystery Writers?

I read five of his novels before deciding that, yes, Michael Connelly is indeed an L. A. writer. It bothers me that so many of the writers I see as L. A. writers are into the mystery genre. That was true of Raymond Chandler, certainly, and also James Ellroy and Tyler Dilts. If I wanted to, and I may in the future, I could add Joseph Wambaugh and a handful of others.

Perhaps there’s something about Los Angeles itself that brings forth so many fictional investigations into the dark heart of the place. When one things of the noir genre, one could just as easily think of New York or Chicago or Miami or—for heaven’s sake—even my own home town, Cleveland, Ohio. But there is something about Los Angeles that is different. I think I put my finger on it when writing about the film version of The Big Sleep in Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward’s Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style: “Los Angeles adds a horizontal dimension to film noir. In place of the looming monoliths and endless urban alleyways of the Eastern cityscape, there is a physical and moral sprawl, a chain of suburbs full of legal and illegal activities linked by wide boulevards and expressways.”

The Concrete Blonde, which I have just finished reading, is about one (or possibly two?) murderers who prey on porno stars and prostitutes. Connelly’s homicide detective Harry (short for Heironymus) Bosch shoots one killer at the start of the novel, and winds up in a long civil suit for having killed an “innocent man” according to the widow and her attorney. And, when the killings continue, it looks as if Bosch could be in the wrong. While attempting to defend himself, the homicide detective concludes that there is a second killer, whom the LAPD christens “The Follower,” who is responsible for these other killings. Bosch frantically attempts to pin the tail on the right perpetrator.

Unlike Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe or Tyler Dilts’s Danny Beckett, Harry Bosch comes from a troubled background. In Viet Nam, he blew up Viet Cong tunnels. While he was still young, his mother was murdered. He has had difficulty hanging on to girlfriends, because at a certain point they become frightened of  the “black heart” of Los Angeles that he must fight on a regular basis.

To date, I have read the following Connelly titles, all of which I recommend:

  • The Black Echo (1992)
  • The Black Ice (1993)
  • The Concrete Blonde (1994)
  • Trunk Music (1997)
  • The Lincoln Lawyer (2005)

 

The Venice Canals

Garden Statue with Cacti

It being another beautiful day, Martine and I took a walk along the Venice Canals. The six remaining canals are what remains of Abbot Kinney’s original 1905 plan for the area. In addition to the vertical Grand Canal and the Eastern Canal, there are four horizontal canals that link them. To remember them, I use the mnemonic ScHLoCk—for Sherman, Howland, Linnie, and Carroll.

In the past, we would visit the area only around the holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas, to see the decorations. But suddenly, one year, the decorations all but disappeared. The area is interesting, nonetheless, because of the residents’ attempts to create gemlike little gardens and house fronts. There were more than a few vacancies and notices portending structural modifications. There are numerous types of succulents and flowering plants on display, and not a few architectural monstrosities, especially of the modern variety.

I have a feeling that the neighborhood can go either way at this point, either becoming a slightly disreputable slum or a major tourist draw. Most of the other walkers were speaking French and other foreign languages, so it is obviously hitting the European and Asian guidebooks. In any case, it’s a pleasant walk.

The Dominguez Rancho Adobe

The Main Building of the Dominguez Rancho Adobe

The same Spanish names are dotted all over the map of California, namely of the Spanish and Mexican land grants that were made before the United States occupied the state during the Mexican-American War. The oldest of these land grants was the Rancho San Pedro, granted to a retired Spanish soldier named Juan José Dominguez by Pedro Fages, Lieutenant Governor of California, in 1784.

When the armed forces of the United States occupied the state beginning in 1846, Rancho San Pedro was the scene of a battle between Californios loyal to Mexico and a poorly led American naval force under Captain William Mervine. The Americans were attempting to relieve the siege of Los Angeles by another Californio force and were driven back in disarray. The conflict is also known as the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun.

The next time the Adobe enters history was in 1910, when the Rancho was the scene of the first national aviation meet in the United States. According to Wikipedia:

It is estimated that over a half-million passengers traveled by train to see this historic event. An open grandstand was erected that was more than six hundred feet in length. Use of the field was provided without rental charge by the Dominguez family, though the family asked to have front row seats for the entire event. Many of the early aviation pioneers were present, including the Wright brothers, Curtiss, Martin, Paulhan, and Willard. Roy Knabenshue flew in one of the very first blimps. The aviation meet lasted for 10 days, establishing the first speed and endurance records.

The first time Martine and I saw the Dominguez Rancho Adobe was in June 2010 at a celebration honoring the 100th anniversary of the the 1910 event.

Today, the adobe was much more quiet. We were given an excellent tour by a docent. Many of the furnishings of the adobe building belonged to original members of the Dominguez family. When Manuel Dominguez, Juan José’s only surviving male heir, fathered six daughters, the names of Carson, Del Amo, and Watson, many of whose descendants are still extant.

The Adobe Kitchen

To perpetuate the Dominguez name, Manuel’s daughters in 1922 donated land to the Claretian Missionaries. Today, there is a two-story retirement home for Claretians on the premises. They are partly responsible for the attractive rose and cactus gardens on the premises. In the cactus garden, I even saw a cacao tree which was bearing fruit, similar to the ones my brother and I saw in Mindo, Ecuador in October 2016.

Tunneling Through the Tar Pits

Still from Volcano (1997) with Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche

Still from Volcano (1997) with Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche

Although according to Mick Jackson’s Volcano (1997), the La Brea Tar Pits is home to a new volcano spewing lava all over the West Side, I see no evidence of that today. I don’t know how far fetched that movie is, but there is definitely something going on in the vicinity. Today’s Los Angeles Times contained an op-ed piece by David L. Ulin entitled “What Lies Beneath L.A.”:

For close to 20 years, my favorite landmark in Los Angeles was a pair of plastic sawhorses, each emblazoned with “City of Los Angeles Dept. of Public Works Street Services.” The sawhorses straddled a patch of pavement at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Curson, across from the La Brea Tar Pits, in front of the Craft & Folk Art Museum. They were there to warn pedestrians away from the small puddle of tar that continually seeped out of a seam in the sidewalk, a constant reminder of the instability of the ground on which this city is built.

Then the sawhorses disappeared. The seam had been repaved — a victory of human will over nature. But now, a year-and-a-half or so later, the sawhorses are back.

I don’t believe in victories of human will, especially in a landscape as elemental as Los Angeles’, which is, as we all know, riven by active faults, disfigured by tar seeps, reeking of gas leaks. In 1985, 23 people were injured when methane ignited and destroyed a Ross Dress for Less across from the Farmer’s Market, and just last year, another underground explosion blew open a manhole at this very intersection.

Today, Martine was in the area, visiting the Petersen Automotive Museum at Wilshire and Fairfax, a scant block or two from the Tar Pits. She was appalled by all the construction going on to extend the Purple Line from Wilshire and Western to (eventually) the Veterans Administration Hospital past Westwood.

Tar Bubbles at the La Brea Tar Pits

Tar Bubbles at the La Brea Tar Pits

One of the scariest scenes in Volcano was an MTA subway that meets up with a wall of lava. We are assured by the MTA that the tunneling they are doing in the area is completely safe:

Subway tunnels will be built through the use of closed-face, pressurized tunnel boring machines (TBMs). During construction, these pressure-face TBMs reduce gas exposure for workers and the public, while gassy soil and tar sands are treated and disposed of appropriately. Enhanced ventilation systems will be used where necessary to ensure tunnel and station safety and, if necessary, double gaskets for the tunnel lining or other measures may also be installed.

Where needed, tunnels and stations will be built to provide a redundant protection system against gas intrusion. This might include: physical barriers to keep gas out of the tunnels, high volume ventilation systems, gas detection systems with alarms, and emergency ventilation triggered by the gas detection systems.

During construction and operations, safety codes require rigorous and continuous gas monitoring, alarms, automatic equipment shut-off and additional personnel training.

The funny thing about assurances is that they rarely inspire much confidence. Along that line, Ulin concludes his article with a wry observation: “Standing at the corner of Wilshire and Curson, waiting for the light to change, I take solace in knowing I am in the middle of a city where the tar simply won’t stop bubbling, no matter what we do.”

 

Favorite Films: The Big Lebowski (1998)

The Dude Abides

The Dude Abides

There are few films that have been produced in the last twenty years that do for me what The Big Lebowski by the Coen Brothers does. In the last thirty days, I have seen it twice; and Im still drawn in by it.

This is a film about mistaken identities and incorrect snap judgments. “The Dude” is Jeff Lebowski (played by Jeff Bridges), an unemployed layabout who loves to bowl. He is confused for a more wealthy Jeff Lebowski, whose young trophy wife has supposedly been kidnapped. One of the Dude’s bowling partners is Walter Sobchak (John Goodman), a harebrained security consultant who is a poster boy for making bad decisions. The two get drawn into the kidnap plot, but things go from bad to worse—until Donny (Steve Buscemi), also on the Dude’s bowling team, dies when the Dude and Walter and confronted by the kidnappers.

Along the way are such great bit parts as Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), a egomaniacal bowler; Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), the other Lebowski’s daughter; Bunny Lebowski (Tara Reid), the trophy wife; and the Stranger (Sam Elliott), who runs into the Dude at the bowling lanes.

A Poster for the DVD Release of the Film

A Poster for the DVD Release of the Film

What is it about the film which has such a strong appeal for me? Probably it is because The Big Lebowski captures the whole Southern California lifestyle with accuracy and feeling. There are bowlers, millionaires, porno film producers, twisted cops, nihilists, wacko artists, and even a detective who seems to have lost his way. Oddly, Joel and Ethan Coen are New Yorkers who do not look down on L.A. as the land of mashed yeast and right turns at red lights: It looks as if they had actually spent some time here profitably.

I don’t guarantee that the Dude will do for you what he has done for me, but I think he just might.

Hill Street Blues

I Am Talking About the Real Hill Street—Not the One from the TV Series

I Am Talking About the Real Hill Street—Not the One from the TV Series

Basically, I should have stayed in bed. I have one of those nagging, persistent summer colds characterized by a raw throat and coughing. Still, I decided to go downtown to the Central Library, have lunch at the Grand Cenral Market, and even stop in at the Last Bookstore at 5th and Spring.

It all started as our train approached the second last stop before getting to the 7th Street Metro Station. We were all let out some 15 blocks south of our final destination because a train from either the Blue or Expo Line was stuck in the tunnel. By the time I got to the Pico Boulevard station, I noticed that the trains were running again; so I boarded and made it all the way to the 7th Street Metro Station.

So far, not too bad. Then, after stopping at the bookstore, I took the Dash bus to Union Station. Instead of boarding the Santa Monica #10 Freeway Bus, I decided at the last minute to take the Red Line subway to 7th Street Metro and transfer to the Expo Line. But that was not to be. As the Red Line approached the Pershing Square Station, an announcement was made that because of “police activity,” the Red Line would not be stopping at 7th Street Metro.

I jumped off at Pershing Square and trudged several blocks south on Hill Street, even as I felt my sore throat becoming rawer and more insistent. When I got to 7th Street Metro, I saw that the whole area was cordoned off by the LAPD and that included the Metro Rail station.

That precipitated the second part of my afternoon trek. I knew that the Santa Monica #10 bus would have to make a detour around the police cordon, so I walked down to Grand Avenue and 9th Street, where I waited … and waited … and waited. Finally, a bus came and I got on, actually getting a seat, and made it home about an hour and a half later than when I planned—and in rush hour traffic.

When I searched the Internet for the nature of the police action, I discovered that someone had left an unattended package in the station, probably some homeless person jettisoning a part of his junk load. It figures.

The Bradbury

The Replicant Pris in Blade Runner

The Replicant Pris in Blade Runner

The Bradbury Building at 304 South Broadway has a list of Hollywood credits that would do any shooting location proud:

  • Blade Runner (1982) is the most famous, where it serves as J. F. Sebastian’s apartment where the replicant Pris catches up with him.
  • Shockproof (1949)
  • D.O.A. (1950)
  • I, the Jury (1953)
  • M (the American remake, 1951)
  • Good Neighbor Sam (1964)
  • Marlowe (1969)
  • Chinatown (1974)

That’s just to name a few of the movies shot there. There were also numerous made for TV movies and television programs set there.

Interior of the Bradbury Building

Interior of the Bradbury Building

Last Thursday, Martine and I stopped in to visit the 1893 office building, which is still filled with business tenants. Because of that, tourists are limited to the ground floor atrium and the first landing on the stairs leading to the upper floors. No matter: It took no time at all to see that the Bradbury is one of Los Angeles’s architectural treasures.