This week I wanted to answer a question often asked by those who follow my blog: What are you reading? Who are your favorite authors?
Favorite Crime Authors
When I was a young man just out of high school, I was introduced to Wambaugh novels by my good friend Johnny Babbitt. He asked if I had read any of Wambaugh’s books and cited a few of his favorites: Choir Boys, The Blue Knight, The New Centurions. I had not, so I asked if he would lend me one. Johnny said he doesn’t loan out Wambaugh books. “I love his writing and want to support him, so go buy your own damn books.” I did, and I was hooked. I thought I had read all of Wambaugh’s books, but then not too long ago someone told me about The Blooding. This is a true crime story about the first homicide case where DNA evidence was used to help solve two murders. It is a fascinating story, told by one of the best in the business of crime writing. If you haven’t yet read The Blooding, you need to go out and get it right now. And no, you can’t borrow it from me or Johnny B.
The television show Bosch—which features Harry Bosch, Connelly’s most popular character—is wildly popular right now and I highly recommend it. I would also recommend you read The Poet and The Lincoln Lawyer. You can’t go wrong with anything written by Connelly, in my opinion.
Best known for classics such as The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy hit a grand slam with his true crime book, My Dark Places. Written as a memoir, Ellroy details the unsolved murder of his mother, Jean Ellroy. It was 1958, and James Ellroy was ten years old when his mother’s body was discovered near a high school in the city of El Monte. At the time, he was contemptuous of his mother as she had taken to drinking and carousing after divorcing James’s father. His mother’s murder clearly led to the author’s troubled life; he turned to drugs and alcohol and even vagrancy at one point. The case was investigated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Homicide Bureau, but never solved. In the mid-nineties, Ellroy teamed with one of the bureau’s retired investigators, Bill Stone, and the two of them reopened the investigation in an attempt to solve the decades-old murder, while Ellroy prepared to write this book. My Dark Places is a fascinating true crime story, and one of my favorites.
Perhaps one of the best true crime books ever written is In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote. If you are a true crime fan and haven’t read this book, you are missing out on a literary masterpiece written about the 1959 quadruple murder of a small-town Kansas farming family. The author reconstructs the crime while documenting the activities of the two suspects leading up to and following the murders. From information gleaned during interviews of the suspects, investigators, and townspeople, Capote gives a fascinating and chilling account of the crime, taking the reader through the whole story, from before the crime is committed to the eventual executions of both suspects.
The Late, Great King of Dialogue is probably my all-time favorite. I have read everything he’s written in the crime fiction and western genres. A few of my favorites include: Up in Honey’s Room, Mr. Paradise, and The Hot Kid.
Though I am not a huge fan of all of King’s work, I do appreciate all of his writing. My favorite King novel is The Dead Zone, a mystery thriller about a man who awakens from a coma and discovers he has psychic powers. This isn’t typically the type of book I would choose to read, but after reading the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down. I would also like to mention his book On Writing. If you write or plan to write, I strongly suggest you read this interesting how-to written in the form of a memoir.
A Drop of the Hard Stuff is a book I recently discovered and thoroughly enjoyed. This book is part of a series featuring Matthew Scudder, a former NYPD detective whose career ended at the bottom of the bottle. But now he is a recovering alcoholic, and the storyline of this book is intertwined with the Alcoholics Anonymous program, which made for an interesting and unique tale. I always had a drink at my side while reading it just to keep things real.
Other Big Names
Some of the others I enjoy include James Lee Burke, James Patterson, and Lee Childs. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the noir classics of Raymond Chandler and Mickey Spillane, but honestly, I haven’t read any of their books since I was a kid.
Some of My Colleagues
Finally, there are many cops-turned-authors, who, like myself, are working to build readerships through word of mouth. Most of us are not inclined to deal with the New York agents and publishing houses for a number of reasons. There are many cop authors, but the following are a few of my close friends and colleagues whose books I have read and enjoyed:
The Red Dot Club series, by Robert Rangel
A Gun, A Badge, An Attitude, by Dean Scoville
Once Upon a Time in Compton, by Tim Brennan, Robert Ladd, and Lolita Files.
EMP Los Angeles, by Frank LaFlamme
Public Speaking: For Fun and Money, by Cliff Yates
I just finished reading a great book by former LAPD detective Dallas Barnes called A Man in Heat. And speaking of LAPD, another copper-turned-author is someone I recently met, Kathy Bennett. Though I have not yet had a chance to read one of her books, I’ve heard great things about her stories and she is on my short list of must reads.
Now, go read some books!
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Don’t forget to pick up my debut novel, A Good Bunch of Men, if you haven’t yet done so. The sequel, Door to a Dark Room, will be released this summer.
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