The 5 Best L.A. Crime Novels: Nonfiction

Read Part II 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!

Always Running

Luis J. Rodriguez

Cover of Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez

This book is L.A. canon as far as I’m concerned. A thrilling, moving, poetic, and ultimately human memoir of redemption from a young gang member growing up in East L.A. In fact, this was actually one of the books recommended to me by a former gang member I met in Lynwood while researching All Involved. He looked incredulous when I said I’d not read it and refused to speak to me again until I had. I read it the next day.

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

Jill Leovy

Cover of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy.

Few books are capable of illustrating the macro and micro views of a problem at the same time—the scope and the human story—but Ghettoside does both ably and in an almost bludgeoning fashion. The facts of murder disproportionately affecting young black men in America is, at times, difficult to read, but the reader is carried through by the thriller-esque, step-by-step investigation into the murder of Bryan Tennelle. It’s a truly incredible work of journalism that everyone should read.

Vice: One Cop’s Story of Patrolling America’s Most Dangerous City

Sgt. John R. Baker with Stephen J. Rivele

Cover of Vice: One Cop’s Story of Patrolling America’s Most Dangerous City by Sgt. John R. Baker with Stephen J. Rivele.

Deep, insightful memoir about the complicated history of the city of Compton and how it changed through the decades—from a semi-rural suburb of Los Angeles to an outpost for the Black Panthers, the birth of the Crips and Bloods, and the beginning of gangsta rap. What most helps this book is that it is told from the point of view of a local who grew up to be a member of the consistently outmanned Compton Police Department and knew many of the career criminals simply by growing up with them. I remain surprised that this has yet to be adapted into a TV series. It has the potential to be an amazing one.

A Burglar’s Guide to the City

Geoff Manaugh

Cover of A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh.

I suppose this could be considered cheating, as merely one-third of this book pertains to Los Angeles, but what it contains is mightily fascinating in the way it illuminates how city architecture not just contributes to but actually creates the very circumstances necessary for Los Angeles to be the bank robbery capital of the world. With its fascinating use of detail and anecdotes, this book truly made me look at Los Angeles in an entirely new way.

Locks and the City: Reviewing A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh

Torchered Minds: Case Histories of Notorious Serial Arsonists

Ed Nordskog

Cover of Torchered Minds: Case Histories of Notorious Serial Arsonists by Ed Nordskog.

I’m a big believer in reading non-fiction to bolster the believability, authenticity, and even sheer scariness of my fiction, and this one is packed with enough case histories and character details to fuel a few books. I first learned of it after taking a Forensic Science Seminar with the author at the LAPD Crime Lab (thanks to the brilliant folks at LAVA). Nordskog has worked as a detective in the LASD Arson/Bomb Unit. His insight into the topic is unmatched.

Check out Ryan Gattis’s Top 5 Fictional L.A. Crime Novels!

Comment below for a chance to win a paperback copy of Safe by Ryan Gattis!

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  1. Joyce Benzing


  2. Daniel M

    sounds like a fun one

  3. Michael Shulman

    Interesting article

  4. Traci Watts

    So interesting. Sounds like it will make a good read.

  5. John Smith

    I love the cover and theme to “A Burglar’s Guide To the City”!

  6. Natalie Amos

    Sounds good!


    Thanks for the opportunity to win!

  8. Shirley Evans

    Would love to read “Safe”. Sounds like a great book!

  9. Michael Carter

    I’d love to win.
    Please enter me in this sweepstakes.

  10. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  11. Joy Isley

    This book sounds so interesting. I have put it on my TBR list

  12. Shannon Wise

    Always Running has been in my TBR pile a long time. I’m going to have to dig it out. And I love Ghettoside. I’m adding Vice to my list. Thanks for the great recommendations.

  13. April Shuffler

    I would love to win a copy of the book Safe!! It’s sounds very interesting and intriguing. Thanks for the chance to win. It’s greatly appreciated by this self proclaimed bookworm 😊

  14. M. Munoz

    Thank you for the opportunity to win!

  15. Rebecca Booth

    Love reading crime dramas, and Safe sounds like a good one!

  16. Theresa Kulenkamp

    I will read it by my fireplace!

  17. Elena

    I love crime dramas and Safe seems very gripping! Thanks for the chance =)

  18. Carolyn

    A great list of crime novels taking place in L.A. ! Thanks for the list!!

  19. carloshmarlo

    That’s a great list of books, I’m saving all those titles for later. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of Safe!

  20. Johanna Brocker

    True crime helps me plan mine!

  21. Lori P

    As a non-Angeleno, I appreciate these recommendations to discover a side of the city I hope never to experience!

  22. dbranigan

    Thank you for the opportunity to win!

  23. Trisha McCullough

    Sounds very interesting.

  24. Anne

    Great list. Wonderful giveaway. Thanks.

  25. Pearl

    Intriguing and captivating. Love this feature.

  26. susan beamon

    I used to read true crime and detective magazines. Once I decided I’d read all I wanted to of human depravity, I stopped. Those books are still in my library.

  27. donna musche

    Sounds like a great read.

  28. Karen Mikusak

    Sounds great! Would love to win.

  29. ViolinGeek

    Will have to read ‘Torchered Minds’. Fire and arson has always fascinated me. Looking forward to reading ‘Safe’. Thanks for the chance to win!!

  30. Karen Hale

    Would love to read the book

  31. Sara Lontcoski

    I love when authors do thorough research of true crime to be able to write their own fiction crime novels. This shows to have huge promise.

  32. Jackie Wisherd

    I am always looking for new authors to read and I think I would like this book.

  33. Karen Hester

    Thanks for the list of books

  34. pablo101

    Great giveaway, thanks for the chance to win.

  35. Janet Gould

    I’m glad my job is behind a desk.

  36. Karl Stenger

    I would love to read the book.

  37. Jodi Scott

    These all sound great!

  38. Susanne Troop

    Love a good book!

  39. rebecca ward

    Love to read about crimes, mysteries, and catching the bad guy/gal.

  40. Charles Hauser

    There’s nothing like a good torch!

  41. Dianna Young

    Count me in!

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  43. Marisa Young

    Interesting list of books.

  44. Sally Schmidt

    Great list for the TBR. Would love to win Safe.

  45. Rachel Carter

    Love a good crime story!

  46. Karen Terry

    Sounds like a great read.

  47. Patricia Nicklas

    Thanks for the list and the giveaway

  48. Laurent L

    Great list. I want to check them all out

  49. Linda Kish

    This sounds like an exciting story. I love the cover.

  50. Marlyn K Beebe

    From :

    Novel (noun):
    an invented prose narrative that is usually long and complex and deals especially with human experience through a usually connected sequence of events,

    In other words, if it’s non-fiction, then it’s NOT a novel.

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