L.A. '56 by Joel Engel

L.A. '56

A Devil in the City of Angels
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True-crime story of rape and racism in postwar Los Angeles.

The narrative has all the elements of a classic film noir and then some: a handsome detective who falls for a beautiful crime victim who narrowly escapes the clutches of a monstrous rapist; the innocent man, railroaded into jail for a capital crime he didn’t commit by the prejudiced police of a corrupt city; a surprise ending with a stakeout and shootout that brings about justice in the end. But this being a story based on real life, the epilogue is not so tidy, least of all for the railroaded suspect, an African-American ex-cop who’d been forced out of the department for dating a white woman. In the summer of 1956, Los Angeles was in the thrall of a serial rapist who trolled lovers’ lanes in tonier districts with a toy sheriff’s badge and a flashlight. He would interrupt young lovers, flash his badge and threaten to arrest the couple for vice crimes. Then he would deposit the young man a few blocks away and return for his prey. On his trail was the talented detective Danny Galindo, a Mexican-American war hero and friend of Dragnet’s Jack Webb, who would feed him the occasional story line. (“Give it to Galindo,” a catchphrase on the show, was Webb’s way of tipping his hat to his LAPD pal.) Galindo worked on some of the city’s most notorious crimes, from the Black Dahlia to the Manson Family murders, but he was particularly proud of this case in which he freed an innocent man and found true love. Engel (Gene Roddenberry: The Myth and the Man Behind Star Trek, 1994, etc.) gets in the head of the rapist, which may be taking liberties with the facts, but it makes for a riveting, novelistic read.

Disturbing social history in the form of a fast-paced thriller.

Pub Date: April 10th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-312-59194-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2012


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