Ryan Gattis got on Scott’s Top 10 of 2015 with All Involved, his look at the 1992 L.A. Riots following the acquittal of officers filmed beating Rodney King. Here he gives us his favorite non-fiction books about crime in the City Of Angels.
1. Ghettoside by Jill Leovy
Full disclosure: I was fortunate enough to get to review this work for a UK publication earlier last year. It is one of the finest books I’ve ever read, so seamlessly wedding a cogent macro-analysis of murder in America to a thriller narrative that tells the tale of what happens when the son of an LAPD homicide detective is murdered in Watts, straight through to the prosecution of those responsible. Though it takes place a solid 15 years after the era I researched for All Involved, I found myself struck and saddened by how little has changed in South Central in the intervening time. You can find copies of Ghettoside on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
2. The Killing Season by Miles Corwin
It’s simply one of my favorite books and actually came highly recommended to me by a few former gang members when I was doing research for All Involved. “Just read it,” I was told. So I did. Mr. Corwin’s time spent shadowing homicide detectives in South Central is nothing short of extraordinary. The author doesn’t just take us along the streets of the city, but he manages to transport us into its broken heart, and time and again he finds crushingly telling details that evoke a city in crisis. Mr. Corwin’s other true crime book set in Los Angeles, Homicide Special, is also a strong book and worth mentioning here, but I must admit I found the fragility of life in the South Central neighborhoods more compelling by far than celebrity cases.You can find copies of The Killing Season via bookpeople.com.
3. Always Running by Luis J. Rodriguez
Although technically a memoir, this book packs more than enough true crime into its pages as the author tells of his difficult journey as a young East L.A. gang member and his struggles to escape that life. Mr. Rodriguez is the current Poet Laureate of Los Angeles, and it’s easy to see why. Even in his early prose, his descriptions stick long in the memory, and the dialogue sings. Whatever its category, it is one of the great books about Los Angeles and deserves to be read. You can find copies of Always Running via bookpeople.com.
4. Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones
I’d never have classed this book as true crime when I picked it up, but I do now. I suppose my definition is wider than most (and it’s worth saying that this book takes us on a journey beyond the city of L.A., all over the United States, and especially into the Mexican state of Nayarit), but I found it not only incredibly compelling, but revelatory in its scope. I also found it telling that the heroin wave that was to sweep the nation started in Los Angeles, in the San Fernando Valley to be exact, far from the street gangs of South Central—by design. Mr. Quinones’ book is macro-crime, so to speak: crime-over-time and its effects. The book is impeccably well-researched, stuffed with hows, whys, and years-long consequences all compiled to provide a bleak picture of what happens when industry leaves America and what dark shadow fills the void.You can find copies of Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic via bookpeople.com.
5. Fires & Furies by Major Gen. James D. Delk
Since I’ve mentioned macro-crime, I might as well sneak this wonderful bit of tactical non-fiction into the last spot on the list as it was incredibly important to my own research on the 1992 L.A. riots. Maj. Gen. Delk’s detailed breakdown of the most destructive riots in U.S. history is full of the kind of law enforcement problems (both expected and unexpected) that make all true crime worth reading. Fires & Furies is officially out-of-print – you can find copies via powells.com.
One last note: this list may well have been different, had I time yet to read two books that have been very highly recommended to me in the past few months: Vice: One Cop’s Story Patrolling America’s Most Dangerous City by Sgt. John Baker with Stephen J. Rivele about Compton, and Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry. I hope to get to them in 2016.