LA was dry as a Marlowe martini for two weeks straight before I arrived. Now, it’s raining. April showers; and that’s not the name of some femme fatale.
All this precipitation, it’s not typical LA but it’s typical LA noir: The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye, Chinatown, Blade Runner. Most recently, the Amazon original series Bosch.
So in a way I’m in luck. I’m here to experience the LA of Raymond Chandler, crumpled cops and crooked movie producers. And to track down Michael Connelly, author of the Bosch books on which the series is based.
In a noir novel, rain means something bad’s about to go down. I put that to the back of my mind. “You’ve got five days to find Connelly,” my editor barks. Ok lady, I hear ya.
I start at a Korean restaurant called The Prince (pictured above), which featured in Chinatown, CSI and Mad Men. “I’m on an LA crime tour,” I tell the valet who’s smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk outside. “Plenty of that in this city,” he says. Inside I choose a battered red leather booth and a bowl of seafood soup big enough to bath a baby in. There’s a rip in my seat and baseball on the TV behind the bar. The wine does its best on limited ability but the food hits a home run.
With the mussels still swimming in my gut, I hit the Los Angeles Police Museum. An ex cop called Joe shows me around. “It’s never usually this wet in April,” he says. “Last week it was 85 degrees.”
There are jail cells for tourists to pose in; vintage police cars and bomb squad vehicles in the yard. And a helicopter. They all need a wash. There are real pipe bombs from the Patty Hearst case. Uniforms and badges stand to attention inside mahogany-framed cases. Guns too: 38s, 45s, glocks, AK47s, Winchesters, a Remington pump action.
“I never fired my gun in 30 years of service,” boasts Joe. He’s a big Bosch fan but he can’t help me find Connelly. He recommends a crime tour, so I hook up with an operation called Esotouric down Pasadena way. It promises to “map the lost memories of criminal LA.”
There sure has been a lot of crime on those leafy streets. I sit on a coach for four hours, listening to stories about arson, occultism and matricide; Aleister Crowley and L Ron Hubbard, while the rain hammers against the window.
The operation’s run by a dame called Kim. She has an encyclopaedic knowledge of local crime and a low tolerance for bad grammar. She knows Connelly. Apparently he’ll be at the LA Festival of Books tomorrow. As we shelter under an orange tree, drinking black coffee, she tells me it was 92 degrees here last week.
It’s my first concrete lead. But I have time to kill, so I visit the Museum of Death (pictured above). Big mistake. It starts off with serial killer memorabilia: artworks, weapons, bloodstained clothing. Then it gets real grisly. I’m not easily shocked, but I have to leave before those mussels come up for air. “A lot of people faint in here,” says the kid on the front desk. “We have to carry them out all the time.”
Later I catch a cab to the Formosa Cafe, which features in the movie LA Confidential. Bogart, Sinatra, Presley, Brando: they all ate here. The driver tells me it was 106 degrees last Wednesday. “It’s only rained here, like, five times since October,” he says. More red leather booths. It’s a cool joint but I order badly. I pick the speciality dish of chicken with waffles and maple syrup. Surely it can’t be as bad as it sounds. It’s worse. The entire plate’s a shade of greyish beige, the colour and texture of grimy stucco.
Michael Connelly and Titus Welliver in conversation
The next morning I head down to the University of Southern California for the Festival of Books. I run into Titus Welliver in the green room. Another stroke of luck. He’s the guy who plays Harry Bosch in the Amazon series. A real charmer: tattoos, deck shoes, citrusy aftershave. He talks to me about Los Angeles crime.
“Being from New York and growing up with cops… one of the things NYPD detectives talk about is how the crime on the east coast is more opportunistic: bank robbery, murder. They always talk about LA as the weirdo crime. On the west coast you have the façade of glamour but beneath that lurks something really disturbing. Think about the Hillside Strangler, Charlie Manson…”
He sets up a rendezvous with Connelly in a diner called Du Par’s, another location featured in the Bosch books. The pancakes are stacked like hired goons in zoot suits. Red booths again. It’s like I’m on some kind of booth cruise.
Du Par’s is in an open-air shopping area called Farmers Market. “This place is almost 100 years old,” says Connelly. He thinks this is old. “It used to be a working farmer’s market. Most of the time in LA they just knock stuff down, no matter the historical context. They’ve preserved this. It’s rare that they just didn’t level the thing and build a giant mall. It’s worth a walk through.”
He’s right. The place has more rustic charm than most of the city’s clinical, air-conned shopping experiences. It almost feels European.
I ask him about LA noir and he talks about his hero, Raymond Chandler.
“He’s the one who mastered the city as a character. He had this ability to get to the heart of LA in a small number of words. He had this wonderful mix of being sardonic about it but also you could tell he loved it. With Harry Bosch, he knows all the city’s dark secrets but he can’t help but be hopeful. He loves the place.”
He tells me why Bosch’s ex-wife is named Eleanor. “She’s a femme fatale. It’s because I was thinking ‘LA noir'”. Clever. I tell him about my idea for a crime-writing nom de plume, “Paige Turner”. He chuckles politely. “That’d be good,” he says, probably making a mental note to steal it.
Venice Beach noir mural
I’ve had my fill of LA crime for now, so I head to Venice Beach for some down time. A huge noir mural greets me on arrival. So does the sun. It’s shining for the first time in five days. Not the sort of happy ending you’d expect from a noir trip, but I’ll take what I can get in this mixed up town.
Seasons 1 and 2 of Bosch are available to stream or download from Amazon Prime Video now.
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