The material would have benefited from a wider focus, but Rayner delivers a lurid, low-down portrait of Los Angeles sure to...

Noir-tinged portrait of the sick soul of America’s Promised Land.

Rayner (The Associates: Four Capitalists Who Created California, 2007, etc.) traces the roots of the seamy allure of Los Angeles in this vivid social history, focusing on the murder trial of Dave Clark, a dashing, charismatic L.A. prosecutor whose fall from grace serves as a neat metaphor for the city: glamour and promise concealing an endemic corruption that, paradoxically, enhances the glamour. Clark was a crack prosecutor; in his early 30s, he had several high-profile victories to his credit and appeared to be bound for great things. Instead, he was sucked into the vortex of “ ‘The System,’ a low-profile but all-powerful syndicate that ran the gambling, prostitution, and bootlegging rackets in L.A.” His mysterious involvement in the murders of Charlie Crawford, L.A.’s underworld boss, and reporter Herbert Spencer led to a sensational trial that captivated the public with its dynamic cast of characters, secret agendas and shocking violence—it was just like a movie. The author’s account of the trial is engrossing, as is his handling of the supporting characters, including Leslie White, a pioneering scientific investigator who leveraged his experiences into a successful career as a pulp-fiction; Clara Bow, the rapidly imploding movie sex goddess; E.L. Doheny, scandal-ridden oil baron; and unhappy oil executive–turned-author Raymond Chandler. Rayner also provides useful glosses on the Teapot Dome scandal, the catastrophic Julian Petroleum Ponzi scam and the horrific flood caused by the failing of the St. Francis Dam. However, despite some striking descriptive passages, the author fails to create a coherent picture of Los Angeles in the ’20s and ’30s. Rayner’s fascination with Clark dominates, and scant attention is paid to the lives of ordinary citizens trying to function within a fatally compromised system. Nonetheless, the narrative of crooked cops, larcenous lawyers and perverted politics is compelling.

The material would have benefited from a wider focus, but Rayner delivers a lurid, low-down portrait of Los Angeles sure to appeal to readers interested in the real L.A. confidential.

Pub Date: June 23, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-385-50970-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2009


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006


"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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