Guest Post: Ryan Gattis’ Top Five L.A. Crime Reads

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.

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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. 

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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

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Scott’s Top Ten of 2015

  • Post by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

If there was a common thread through the best books of 2015, it was ambition. Authors stretched themselves by taking on large subjects or writing something much different, or taking their series characters down a different path. All of these authors raised the bar for themselves and leaped over it.


hollow man1. Hollow Man by Mark Pryor

Pryor’s smart use of point of view puts us in the head of Dominic – Austin prosecutor, musician, and sociopath – who gets involved with a robbery and to continue to tap into his darker nature when things go bad. One of the freshest and best neo-noirs to come down the pike.


the cartel2. The Cartel by Don Winslow

Winslow’s sequel to The Power Of The Dog reignites the blood feud between DEA agent Art Keller and cartel head Adán Barrera in epic fashion to show the disastrous effect of the war on drugs in Mexico. A book that both enrages and entertains.Read More »

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of 2015 So Far

Scott’s Top 10 (Okay, 12) Of The Year So Far

We are now in the last month of summer reading. If you want to go out with some quality crime fiction, here are some suggestions of books both talked about and deserving of attention. It was difficult to cut this list down and even when I did, I doubled up on a couple that shared a few traits.


the cartel1. The Cartel by Don Winslow

This mammoth, yet fast paced look at the war with the Mexican cartels is epic crime fiction at its finest. Full of emotion, great action, and sharply drawn characters, this book is destined to be on a lot of critics’ list for 2015 as well as becoming a classic. Even more entertaining, is that Winslow’s drug kingpin, Adan Barrera, has a lot in common with current fugitive Cartel boss, El Chapo.


bull mountainwhere all the light tends to go2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich & Where All Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Both of these rural noirs by debut authors show there is still a lot of life in the subgenre. These books view ideas of violence, kin, honor, and retribution with the eyes of an author with decades of experience and the energy of newcomer.


long and faraway gone3. The Long & Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

The ambitious novel balances three mysteries to look at the ripples of a violent act and the effect it has on the survivors. Great pacing and clean, accessable style allow for this rich, multi-character story to flow beautifully.


bishops wife4. The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

Loosely based on a true crime, this book gives us an inside and very human view of modern Mormon society. Harrison balances both interior monologue and exterior dialogue to give us a main character who doesn’t know if she can always speak her mind.


doing the devil's work5. Doing The Devil’s Work by Bill Loehfelm

A routine traffic stop for rookie patrolman Maureen Coughlin leads to a conspiracy involving a black drug dealer, white supremacists, guns, a prominent New Orleans family, and some of her fellow officers. Loehfelm renders the both the drudgery and danger of police work and the web of corruption that even ensnares good cops.


love and other wounds6. Love & Other Wounds by Jordan Harper

These short stories herald a great new voice in crime fiction. Harper has a cutting prose style that reveals the souls of violent men.


soil7. Soil by Jamie Kornegay

A mix of Southern gothic with psycho noir about a failed young farmer who finds a body on his flooded property. Kornegay knows how to capture people driven by their obsessions and at the end of their rope.


concrete angels8. Concrete Angel by Patricia Abbott

Abbott’s inverse retelling of Mildred Pierce has a classic feel even though the story about a daughter caught up in her mother’s mania and criminal schemes has a modern psychological bent. A page-turner in the best sense of the word.


past crimesthe devils share9. Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton and The Devil’s Share by Wallace Stroby

Two great hard boiled tales from the criminal point of view. Whether Stroby’s heist woman or Hamilton’s “reformed” criminal out for revenge, these books deliver all the tropes with a fresh take and pathos.


all involved10. All Involved by Ryan Gattis

This tapestry of short stories that take place in L.A. during the six days of the Rodney King Riots is both blistering and human. A historical novel that has a lot to say about the present.


You can find copies of the books listed above on our shelves or via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Q&A with Ryan Gattis


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Our April Pick Of The Month, Ryan Gattis’ All Involved, is a book both intimate and epic, as is looks at the six days of rioting in L.A. after the exoneration of policemen filmed beating Rodney King from different perspectives through interlocking short stories. The result is both emotional and balanced. We talked to Ryan about the history he covered, L.A., and hanging out with gang members.


MysteryPeople: What drew you to the L.A. riots as a subject for the story?

Ryan Gattis: Initially, it was the scale. I just didn’t understand how that much widespread rioting, looting, & chaos could be tied to one event—what happened to Rodney King & the subsequent acquittals of his police assailants. One day, sure, but six? At some point, I felt, the riot would have to have become something else entirely. The King verdict was certainly the spark, but the riots morphed into a far more sinister event on Day 2, driven mainly by crimes of opportunity. For me, the most troubling aspects of the riots weren’t necessarily what was happening in designated riot areas with helicopters hovering overhead; it was that large swaths of the city were left without police or emergency assistance, leaving a county of nearly 5,000 square miles open to its 102,000 gang members & potential crimes of retribution.

MP: What do you think the biggest misconception about the event is?

RG: That it is was only black & white, or only about what happened to Rodney King. During the course of my research I was told time & again that, black or brown, every neighborhood had a Rodney King. Everyone knew someone who had been beaten by the police. Beyond that, there are larger contributing factors that are rarely discussed or understood. For one, clear & effective communication is difficult in Los Angeles. With over 90 languages spoken & immigrant communities from nearly every country on earth, it is effectively a Balkanized city with some historic housing, voting, & employment issues. Throwing in a recession on top of that heritage, an unchecked police force, and some very serious problems delivering justice to its people of color (e.g. where the maximum sentence was 16 years in prison, Korean storeowner Soon Ja Du was fined $500, given probation, and 400 hours of community service for shooting Latasha Harlins, an unarmed 15-year-old, in the back), and the riots were a far more dense & layered event than can be explained in sound bites.

MP: How did you come about the approach to tell it in a mosaic of short stories?

RG: The book actually started its life as a novella. It was only Day 1 when I first wrote it, only the stories of the three Vera siblings. I hadn’t had a novel published in nearly ten years at that point, so when I sent it to my agent in London, I was actually expecting her not to understand it. I was very wrong. Within two days, she responded with enormous positivity & pushed me to write the entirety of the riots—all six days—as a novel. After that, I viewed each day as a novella, and that’s roughly how it ended up: with each 24-hour section clocking in at roughly 20,000 words. It seemed the best way to tackle a multi-day event structurally.

MP: What was the most challenging point of view to write from?

RG: It was James, definitely. I lived two blocks from Skid Row, on 5th & Main, for a few years. Because I didn’t have a car & I walked everywhere, I knew many homeless in the neighborhood and I spoke to them often. Many were vets. This was especially heartbreaking for me, coming from a military family, so that was part of my difficulty. But there was something more too: the things I could never get a handle on when living there, and even since, were the untreated psychological issues so many homeless people have. As I wrote James, I struggled with how to characterize his mental illness in a way that still afforded a degree of dignity, as well as plot insight. I’ve never written a character like that before, and I was very, very picky with his voice & word choice. I must have re-written him twelve or thirteen times, whereas the most I rewrote any other character was once.

MP: You deal with a lot gang characters and show aspects of their lives that are surprising and humanizing. What surprised you in your research on them?

RG: In my research, what surprised me most was how easy the former gang members were to relate to. They prioritized family, food, & work just like I do—although, perhaps, our definitions of that work, and our access to it, differed. I think, though, that those shared human values surprised them about me too. Here I was, some white boy professor & writer from Colorado who had traveled to them and stepped into their neighborhood, and I think their perfectly logical first thought was: was I for real? It always came up that I didn’t own a car. My Los Angeles is the one I’ve seen from bus & train windows. That’s how I built my mental map. Same as them. (In fact, one person I spoke to routinely called me “Blue Line” because I often rode the South L.A. line that goes through Watts & Compton.) After that, at some point during those first meetings, I would tell my own story of being a survivor of physical violence (when I was 17, my nose was torn out of my face & I had two facial reconstructive surgeries), and that never failed to elevate the discussion & create a connection. From that moment, it was about being human together. That became primary. Where we were from & even cultural background—it was still there—but both took a back seat to what we’d been through. I was no longer an outsider to their culture of violence then. I was an empathetic survivor who could deeply understand their lives, their pain, and what they’d been through. That opened up opportunities to talk to them about their biggest fears, their dearest hopes. It was, and remains, an honor to have had those conversations with folks who have seen some of the worst stuff the world has to offer. Perhaps most importantly, I think the folks I spoke to during my research & background always understood that this was never a tourist trip for me. I remain in close contact with many of them to this day.

MP: Seeing the reaction to police brutality in Ferguson and New York after writing All Involved, did you notice anything different from those events and the Rodney King riots or was it basically the same thing again?

RG: I think the underlying feelings of injustice & racial targeting are very, very similar. There are certainly patterns there. Now, I have not studied the other situations and I don’t know if this applies to Ferguson or New York, but one of the biggest problems within L.A. law enforcement is their officers’ cultural aversion to living in the City of L.A. As a result, they police a public they do not know personally, or, in some cases, even care about. It is much easier to denigrate, dehumanize, or treat with derision if you can drive away at the end of the day and not deal with the people you have alienated or hurt. I do not know if this is an issue in Ferguson or New York, but I’d not be surprised if it were, and I am curious to find out. However, as I mentioned above, Los Angeles is absolutely its own beast. It is, without question, a breed apart. Its extreme diversity & sheer size mean there is no clean parallel for the scale of the 1992 L.A. Riots, which—to this point—remain the most destructive civic event in U.S. history.


You can find copies of All Involved on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople Pick of the Month: ALL INVOLVED by Ryan Gattis

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The L.A. Riots of 1992 is and the police brutality case that spurred them are some of those events that will always be remembered by us that watched it play out on live TV. The riots brought up the still resonant issues of class, race, and police brutality, and became an even more a divisive event since it happened during a presidential campaign. In All Involved, Ryan Gattis takes us through working-class Los Angeles during six days after the Rodney King verdict to show us the human side to the history.

The book is a mosaic of short stories, each from a different point of view and dealing with murders and other crimes that were committed while the riots were going on and the police were indisposed. The people range from gangbangers (a large percentage of the characters), firemen, nurses, a homeless man, and even a soldier, known as Anonymous, in a paramilitary unit brought in to handle the gangs. Many of the tales interlock or brush up against each other. One vivid story involves a civics lesson a Korean American teen gets when he helps his relatives protect their stores.

This approach allows us to look at the community where the violence sprung. We get the collection of diverse people, not the monolith of an angry mob. Each person we follow has their angel and demons, as well as aspirations and interesting outlooks. Gattis fleshes them out fully in the moments he gives them. By not focusing on the riots themselves, we get to know the citizens who lived lives before the event and will somehow have to continue after.

Gattis has picked a historical subject that couldn’t be more timely. He takes a situation that was literally viewed by many of us as black and white and shows the colors, shades, and textures of it. He makes the lives of All Involved vivid and important.


You can find copies of All Involved on our shelves after April 7, or you can pre-order a copy via bookpeople.com.