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A Bright and Guilty Place: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.'s Scandalous Coming of Age

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  240 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Best Book of the Year
The Los Angeles TimesThe Washington Post

Los Angeles was the fastest growing city in the world, mad with oil fever, get-rich-quick schemes, and celebrity scandals. It was also rife with organized crime, with a mayor in the pocket of the syndicates and a DA taking bribes to throw trials. In A Bright and Guilty Place, Richard Rayner narrates the entwi
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Paperback, 304 pages
Published June 1st 2010 by Anchor (first published 2009)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 649)
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Jim
On the face of it, this is an odd book. It deals with L.A. noir years before noir really existed as a literary genre. And it views a strange slice of history, from 1927 to 1933, through the eyes of two people of whom I had never heard: the prosecuting attorney Dave Clark and the criminal investigator/detective writer Leslie White. Not really a promising field.

And yet, the British writer Richard Rayner manages to carry it off. Using primarily newspapers and autobiographies as his main sources, Ra
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James Thane
Richard Rayner focuses on the careers of two men, Leslie White and Dave Clark, to detail the history of Los Angeles in the turbulent 1920s and '30s. The city's population was exploding in the boom years of the '20s, and its government and police force were thoroughly corrupt. Movie stars, oil men, gangsters and countless others flooded into the city in the hope of making their names, their fortunes, or both. Newspapers exploited the sensations of the day, often with little regard for the truth, ...more
Zedder
There's something simply delicious about reading nonfiction books like this. They're the intellectual equivalent of Dove Bars: one part nonfiction--so feel like you're actually learning something--and one part narrative--so you actually enjoy reading it.

Anyway, like another recent LA history book (John Buntin's "L.A. Noir"), this book spells out the real historical basis for Raymond Chandler's fictionalized version of Los Angeles. It turns out that the real L.A. was just as corrupt as Chicago--
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Alyson
Narrative non-fiction is a rare gift and this book was like Christmas. Rayner makes believable the mystique and mythology of LA noir, which inspired a whole genre of writing (pulp fiction) and film (film noir), through his exhaustive research and the retelling of the lives of two lesser known historical figures whose destinies are interwoven with the glamour and corruption that was LA's messy coming of age.
Jason
While this narrative nonfiction tome is set in 20s and 30s Los Angeles, my soundtrack for reading was 60s and 70s California Soul. For whatever reason, it fits perfectly in my mind with what is essentially the true story of the birth of noir in America. It probably has to do with my own indoctrination into a love of noir through Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins tales. That fictional Los Angeles is dripping with soul. A Black soul. California Soul.

A Bright and Guilty Place, however, is about the crea
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John
Although I don't know if there's an actual category in crime fiction called "LA Noir," no reader of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler or the countless crime writers who have followed in their footsteps would have any problem recognizing the phrase. All cities are corrupt and crime-ridden, but Los Angeles, so hot and sunny, so dark and sinful, has a paradigm all its own. And the truth about the place is equal to the fiction. Richard Rayner's account is a sharp, stark, black and white photograp ...more
Hundeschlitten
Rayner tells the story of L.A. in the 1920's and early 30's as film noir. He portrays a dynamic city being built on the scrub, where the modern culture of greed and materialism rubbed shoulders with a flashy religious revivalism, all of it driven by the enthusiasms of folks who looked at their recent move to these sunny climes as a personal manifest destiny. As a former Angeleno whose family moved to the Golden State in the early 1900's, I have become fascinated with the mentality of those times ...more
Jan
This book landed on my reading list long before I ever moved to LA, but after getting here, I knew that I needed to read it quick. It follows the careers of two men involved in law enforcement during the wildly corrupt 1920s and 30s, Dave Clark and Leslie White, whose paths cross and then diverge wildly.

I liked it because I previously knew very little about the history of LA. I didn't even know that it was an oil boom town! So I did like that Rayner went back and explored some of the history of
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Heyhansen
A lot of fun for me, great to tie in to the Chandler books I've been reading. Another glimpse into how truth is stranger - and wilder - than fiction. I'm hopelessly romantic about LA so this was good background info for me, essentially a detective "story" set against the backdrop of LA becoming the city it is - with an emphasis on it's crime & corruption. While Chicago had it's Capone, LA had "the system" something that I imagine is still deeply rooted there today.
Terry
The writing is a bit loose and sloppy, but I love reading about buildings and intersections I just walked past not too long ago. I will definitely be writing down a list of buildings to visit next time I go into downtown LA. Still, it's kind of depressing to realize the city was built on corruption and murder and abuse of innocent people (not rock and roll).
Paul Pessolano
This is a story that cannot be made up, although it sure sounds like it. Los Angeles in the 1920's was coming of age. The coming of age meant murder, corruption, movie stars, and politics that mirrored the cities of Chicago and New York.

The story is told through the lives of two individualists who started on the right side of the law and only one remained there.

Dave Clark and Leslie White both worked to the City of Los Angeles. Clark was a prosecutor and White was a crime scene investigator.

Oil
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Mal Warwick
If this book had been a straightforward narrative account of L.A.'s history from the end of the First World War through the Great Depression, it could have been brilliant. The two central characters, in all their indulgences and idiosyncrasies, beautifully embody the tale of crime and corruption, fame and its misfortunes, all under the brilliant lights of Hollywood.

But A Bright and Guilty Place is two books, really. One is that account from an experienced Los Angeles journalist, a tensely writte
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Ben
There's lots to like in the historical survey of a rich period in Los Angeles criminal history, specifically the roaring 20s. But it's also exemplifies many of the problems with modern publishing which Andre Schiffrin talks about in his brilliant and highly recommended study The Business of Books: How the International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read.

Maybe it's unfair to single out Rayner's book, because he did do a lot of great work and there's a lot of stuff in
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Tony
Rayner, Richard. A BRIGHT AND GUILTY PLACE: Murder, Corruption, and L.A.’s Scandalous Coming of Age. (2009). **. I’ve read several of Rayner’s earlier works and found them to be relatively well written and cogent accounts of specific people or events. In this one, I found myself confused. The hint that the reader might be in trouble starts on p. xi, “Cast of Characters,” that continues on to p. xiv, followed by a paragraph that lists an additional minor cast of characters consisting of eighteen ...more
Hood
Bound: The City of Shady Angels - SunPost Weekly July 15, 2010
http://bit.ly/9k8i3U
John Hood

If cities are chicks – and if a city’s worth anything, it better be a chick – then L.A. is one shady lady. You might also say she’s a chick in heat. Wanton, insatiable, and faithful only as far as the next kiss, she’s the kinda chick a man will fall for, kill for and even die for, even as she’s walking out the door.

L.A. is also a city of deep and often creepy secrets. Like the hot chick, it’ll give you the
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Nigeyb
I'd heard mixed reports about this book so despite my enthusiasm for LA based noir fiction, and a desire to find out more about the reality, my enthusiasm was tempered by foreboding.

Richard Rainer's writing style initially felt confused and incoherent, however within a few chapters I was hooked....

This is a complex tale and yet Rainer tells it with verve and enthusiasm. He cleverly focuses on two contrasting personalities: one who is seduced and corrupted, whilst the other retains his integrity
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Christopher
I have visited Los Angeles a couple of times over the last few years and enjoyed driving around spotting famous places, streets and areas (Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard, etc.) so I had a special interest in reading this book.

The premise of the book is to tell the stories of two men around in the political and legal system in the early years of Los Angeles. Incredibly, much of the history is within living memory of people around today.

It begins with the St Francis dam disaster in 1928 and then cont
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Timo Ivanov
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Joshua
Since I'm a recent Los Angeles transplant [been here two weeks now!], I've decided to read some non-fiction set in Los Angeles and California. There seems to be a decent amount of books related to crime, the movie industry and the 1920s when it comes to LA. First up, Richard Rayner's look at the seedy, corrupt side of Los Angeles in the 1920s and 1930s by looking at some well known court cases and the men and women who were involved. Rayner includes not only the lawyers, police, judges on the la ...more
Val
The best bits of the book are the quotes from Raymond Chandler,
example: 'Outside the bright gardens had a haunted look, as though wild eyes were watching me from behind the bushes, as though the sunshine itself had a mysterious something in the light.'
and: 'The house itself was not so much. It was smaller than Buckingham Palace, rather grey for California, and had fewer windows than the Chrysler Building...'.
Richard Rayner also uses quotes from newspapers, court records, memoirs, diaries, biogr
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Matt
An episodic run through of Los Angeles area crime in the 1920s-30s. Fairly intriguing, although the author tries too hard to establish a mood where a more straightforward manner would have gone over much better. Some good, lesser known crimes are dealt with (Doheny murder); the bulk is a dry recounting of a trial involving the accused murderer of mobster Charlie Crawford.
Steven
Outstanding nonfictional narrative weaving together the related stories of Leslie White (best known for his memoir Me, Detective) and David Clark (known, if at all, for his murder of crime boss Charlie Crawford). Along the way Rayner touches on everything from the life and career of Clara Bow to Einstein's friendship with Charlie Chaplin to the invention of hardboiled crime fiction. Every page had a new nugget I wanted to race off and find more details on.

Rayner provides a bibliography and notes
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Eric
The writing starts off a little dead in a kind of attempt to mimic the voice of gumshoe crime writers and newspapers of the era it describes. But as you get into it, you find Rayner has dug deep into Los Angeles' history to discover the half-understood stories and scandals that launched noir as the vehicle for documenting LA's shadowy history. Read the last chapter ("A Personal Note" 31) first to set the stage. In it, Rayner discusses the reasons he felt compelled to write this book and offers a ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Dec 13, 2011 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: California history geeks
Recommended to Snail in Danger (Sid) by: spotted it on a local bookstore's remainder shelves
This spent a great deal of time on the history of California before getting to what the jacket copy led me to believe was the meat of the story. Kage Baker has conditioned me to enjoy that — and the material about Raymond Chandler was interesting in its own right — but the actual story ended up feeling biographically shallow.
Karen
L.A. has been corrupt for a LONG time.
Pat
Los Angeles in the early 1920's. The author follows a young newcomer to the city who becomes a district attorney investigator on high-profile cases. This is a great book for people interested in the early makings of L.A. Greystone Mansion is now in perspective for me. Doheny Boulevard makes sense. I liked the story up until the last 50 pages or so. The graft and greed of the main characters leads to sad ends. Clara Bow in particular.
Salaryman63
What a place LA must have been. I've never been there but this is a must read for folks who make LA their home. If you enjoy Jame's Elroy you will love this book. It tells a great story centered around two men-one a raising star with a flawed moral compass and another with a real work ethic who knows his place. The characters that come in and out of the story are marvelous! Now I know why they call it Hollywood Babylon!
Peyton
This book made me want to re-read The Big Sleep and Mike Davis's books on the history of Los Angeles. It also made me want to visit (or at least drive-by) some of the landmarks of a city that is still, to a large extent, "home." A page-turning blend of corruption, murder, politics and Hollywood in an identity-forming time in L.A.'s history. I wonder how people who have never lived here will like this book?
Jennie
As someone who is fascinated by historical accounts of Los Angeles, especially at the turn of the twentieth century, I was drawn to Rayner's book, A Bright and Guilty Place. While he does provide anecdotes of the notorious episodes of L.A.'s past, the narrative gets bogged down with inconsequential details. The idea behind the book is a good one. I am just not sure Rayner pulled it off.
Sigrid Ellis
I am really liking this so far -- the non-fiction events in the book read like fiction in no small part because Chandler, Gardner, and Hammett used the events in their books. It's a quick, gripping read, in my opinion.

Okay, finished the book. I found this to be a good book. It made me want to read about the history of Jazz Age corruption in Minneapolis-St. Paul, which is my next book. :)
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Richard Rayner is a British author who now lives in Los Angeles. He was born on December 15, 1955 in the northern city of Bradford. Rayner attended schools in Yorkshire and Wales before studying philosophy and law at the University of Cambridge. He has worked as an editor at Time Out Magazine, in London, and later on the literary magazine Granta, then based in Cambridge.

Rayner is the author of ni
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“Cities have characters, pathologies that can make or destroy or infect you, states of mind that run through daily life as surely as a fault line. Chandler’s “mysterious something” was a mood of disenchantment, an intense spiritual malaise that identified itself with Los Angeles at a particular time, what we call noir. On the one hand noir is a narrow film genre, born in Hollywood in the late 1930s when European visual style, the twisted perspectives and stark chiaroscuros of German Expressionism, met an American literary idiom. This fruitful comingling gave birth to movies like Double Indemnity, directed by Vienna-born Billy Wilder and scripted by Raymond Chandler from a James M. Cain novella. The themes — murderous sex and the cool, intricate amorality of money — rose directly from the psychic mulch of Southern California. But L.A. is a city of big dreams and cruelly inevitable disappointments where noir is more than just a slice of cinema history; it’s a counter-tradition, the dark lens through which the booster myths came to be viewed, a disillusion that shadows even the best of times, an alienation that assails the sense like the harsh glitter of mica in the sidewalk on a pitiless Santa Ana day. Noir — in this sense a perspective on history and often a substitute for it — was born when the Roaring Twenties blew themselves out and hard times rushed in; it crystallized real-life events and the writhing collapse of the national economy before finding its interpreters in writers like Raymond Chandler.” 0 likes
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