The 5 Best L.A. Crime Novels: Fiction

Read Part I of Ryan Gattis's top L.A. crime novels, then make sure you're signed in and comment below for a chance to win a paperback copy of his gritty thriller Safe!

Southland

Nina Revoyr

I’m a big fan of stories driven by unexpected detectives: characters drafted in from other walks of life who happen to have a particular emotional or familial stake in figuring out who is to blame for a crime. Jackie Ishida, law student, is one such character. Very few writers explore the varied textures and difficult intersections of race and violence in Los Angeles as well, or as deeply, as Revoyr. Southland isn’t just a great mystery with complicated characters; it’s also a masterclass in how to plot, illuminate, and possibly even educate a reader as to the realities of this city at the same time—and that is a tremendously difficult thing to do.

Land of Shadows

Rachel Howzell Hall

Although City of Saviors might be my favorite, if you’re going to start the Detective Eloise “Lou” Norton series, you really should start at the beginning. Lou is a black, female cop working homicides in South Los Angeles; in fact, there are faint echoes of Det. Marcella Winn about her character (a real-life detective from Miles Corwin’s excellent book, The Killing Season). The real pleasures of this series, though, are in Hall’s willingness to portray a part of Los Angeles so rarely seen, cared about, or understood (but which adds so much to one’s overall understanding of L.A.). And, of course, there’s her dialogue. Hall is a master of dialogue.

Little Scarlet

Walter Mosley

I always find it difficult to pick my favorite Easy Rawlins mystery for a list such as this. I find I often tilt back and forth between two or three, but it must be said that I chose Little Scarlet because it holds a solid place in my heart for taking as its backdrop the 1965 Watts riots. It’s no easy feat to engage a reader with a gripping plot and yet tackle insightful historical commentary at the same time, but Mosley does both admirably. The atmosphere—the images and smells of smoke; the details and consequences of violence during a lawless time—is particularly well-done. This book is, to put it mildly, a masterpiece.

No Beast So Fierce

Edward Bunker

Published in 1973, No Beast So Fierce is a classic L.A. crime story from an author who knew what the inside of a prison felt like. It’s a different Los Angeles that our narrator Max lands in, with 65 bucks in his pockets and a cheap suit 10 years out of date. And it’s not an easy ride that leads him right back to crime via a series of heists, each one more desperate than the last. For that matter, it’s not an easy read, but it’s damn well-written, with dialogue done right. It’s an unflinching look into the selfishness of a particular breed of criminality, the mercilessness of survival when one is on the run.

The Underground Man

Ross Macdonald

Perhaps I have shown my cards a bit in some of these other picks, but there’s honestly nothing I admire more than atmosphere well-executed in novels about the city: the sounds, the sights, and the smells of being here. The Underground Man may well be Macdonald’s most atmospheric piece, taking place while a wildfire rages in the Santa Ynez foothills above the city. Of course, there’s a body. Of course, there’s a convoluted mystery. But all must be dealt with while a wall of fire threatens to destroy clues, sweep away crimes, and even devour the detective himself. This piece feels timelier now than when I first read it a decade ago, as the annual Southern California wildfires get larger and more destructive, year on year.

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Comments

  1. DanielM

    sounds like a fun one

  2. Nancy P

    Sounds very intriguing!

  3. Toni A Laliberte

    These all sound great! I love thrillers. Thank you for the chance to win this book.

  4. Penni Ellington

    I love new-to-me authors!

  5. Natalie Amos

    Sounds really good!

  6. joel timmons

    Bring. On. The. Thrill rides. Of. Those. Books

  7. Douglass Abramson

    Some interesting books there

  8. Vito Valenzuela

    Nice!

  9. Tad Ottman

    Sounds interesting!

  10. Daniel Weber

    Sounds good.

  11. katevocke

    Wow. All of these sound really interesting – I’ve added few to my TBR.. including SAFE!

  12. Elena

    Thanks for the recommendations and Safe sounds gripping! I would love to read it =)

  13. Benjamin Thomas

    “Safe” sounds like anything but safe…

  14. susan beamon

    I have read some of these authors, although not the books listed. I may in the future. I do like books that have a well defined sense of place, which all these listed books seem to have. Wishing to win the offered book.

  15. Lori P

    Recommendations noted. Thanks for these!

  16. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  17. Shannon Wise

    Other than Land of Shadows, which I loved, these are all new titles for me. I’m going to check them out.

  18. Kelly Martin

    Sounds like a great book…count me in!

  19. Catherine Myers

    I’m in

  20. teresa sopher

    Who doesn’t like free books?

  21. Michael Carter

    Sounds great!
    Yes please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  22. Jackie Wisherd

    I have read books written by a couple of the authors whose books are dis ussed and enjoyed reading them. I especially like how the city of LA is protrayed in each of the stories. Sometimes it is a character itself and sometimes the city is just a background. I know I woukd enjoy the book Safe.

  23. Kathryn Magee

    I like to write reviews for authors, especially newer authors, so they get a real feel for why I liked or didn’t like a book. I write poetry, and I know a lot of writers, and it’s hard to get better when all you get is “this book is great, loved it”. I am always interested in seeing how other reviewers do it, so that my reviews get better! Thank you!

  24. Sarah M. Chen

    Southland is also one of my favorites.

  25. Cindi Hoppes

    I watch real life crime stories, on tv.
    Even, the shows like Criminal Minds, NCIS, CSI, Law and Order, etc., are favorites of mine! All of these books, sound very intriguing.
    Many thanks, Cindi

  26. Stephanie L Nelson

    Sounds great!

  27. Joy Isley

    I am always looking for new authors to read. This book sounds like the kind I would enjoy reading.

  28. April

    Captivating and fascinating. Great books and this novel would be a treasure.

  29. Pearl

    Enthralling and intriguing feature and giveaway. Thanks.

  30. Seana Graham

    Great list, well described.

  31. Bill Cook

    Looking forwarding to reading them all. Got one for Chicago?

  32. Dennis ODaniel

    Thanks for the list – I will look not them ! I would like to win a copy !

  33. Karen Mikusak

    Sounds great! Would love to win.

  34. John Collins

    Excellent comments. I plant to read ‘Little Scarlett’ next.

  35. John Collins

    Excellent Comments.

  36. Barbara Bibel

    Sounds good. I grew up in Los Angeles.

  37. Michael Gorecki

    I guess you’ve never heard of Michael Connelly.The fact that your “best crime novels of LA”doesn’t include any of his outstanding Harry Bosch series,makes your article irrelevant.

  38. CAMERON KLEM

    I stumbled upon Land of Shadows, and appreciate the “leads for new reads”. Thanks!

  39. Catherine Lawry

    Hmm, I think one of Michael Connelly’s Bosch books should be on this list, but I’ll look into these books too. 🙂

  40. Darlene Slocum

    I like books that make me think

  41. Kris Kaminski

    OK I’m hooked!

  42. ViolinGeek

    Ready for the Ride. Count me in! Thanks!

  43. Don Mcclure

    I like the cover

  44. Laurent L

    Good list, thanks

  45. Christal M

    Looks good

  46. Terrie

    Thanks for adding to my to-be-read list!

  47. Valerie Wiesner

    The noir thrillers set in L.A. are some of my favorite reading material. I would love to read this author!

  48. Jeffrey Malis

    Thank you for the recommendations and the entry opportunity!

  49. Linda Henderson

    My favorite Ross MacDonald–The Moving Target. I found Walter Mosley’s books after reading President Clinton loved them. Great authors. Thanks for the list.

  50. Karen Hester

    Thanks for the list

  51. todolm

    Great list for LA’s soft underbelly.

  52. Jean Barber

    Seems as if it will be a good read!

  53. Linda Cosby

    Sounds like a good read.

  54. Janet Gould

    Great list of books.

  55. Cathy O'Connor

    These sound great and are authors I have seldom read. Excited!

  56. Louis Burklow

    Thanks for the recommendations – I’ve not read most of them yet.

  57. Frances Marshall

    Curious.

  58. Kati

    Sounds like a great read!

  59. Susan Morris

    I will be checking these titles out! They sound great and I like finding out about the underbelly of LA.

  60. Erica Stafura

    These look great!

  61. Saundra K. Warren

    all new to me authors!!!

  62. Jean Feingold

    Big fan of thrillers

  63. Lesley Kay

    I am intrigued!

  64. Charlene Roberson

    Good list. I agree on Walter Mosley, especially Easy Rawlins. I also like the Harry Bosch novels for their LA background.

  65. matt wagner

    Grand idea; also loves me some T Jeff and Winslows!

  66. Katrina Yurenka

    Send me this one!

  67. Susan Glatki

    Safe & Southland sound great. I already know Easy Rawlins.

  68. lasvegasnv

    looks suspenseful

  69. Deb Philippon

    I haven’t read many LA based books. Thank you for the list. Wish me luck!

  70. Andrew Beck

    There’s nothing better than a well-written LA based detective story.. Really miss Joseph Hansen and his Dave Brandstetter books! They captured LA and the Hills on a misty night better than anyone!

  71. richard brenner

    There’s something inexplicably atmospheric about the best L.A.-set mysteries, whether they’re encountered in print or on the big screen.

  72. Anastasia

    I could use a gritty thrill 🙂

  73. Patricia Nicklas

    Would love to read – thanks!

  74. Doug Brown

    Ross MacDonald is one of my favorite authors. I haven’t read The Underground Man for many years; I will have to read it again since you have reminded me of it!

  75. Dianna Young

    I’m In!

  76. Karen Terry

    Sounds like a winner.

  77. rebecca ward

    Count me in….sounds like a coffee and comforter book.

  78. Holly

    Killer list! I’m intrigued by Southland, as I’m also super into leads who don’t quite mean to get wrapped up in the mystery.

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