Jenning is a meticulous researcher who delves deeply into the minutiae of California crime and politics. An account of an apparent child murder does a neat job of covering both the panic the death inspired as well as the limits of forensics at the time. He is especially effective at capturing the era’s pervasive corruption, as in a darkly funny tale of a politician being set up with a "dissolute" woman to embarrass him. Readers also get the dish on Raymond's brushes with celebrity, such as the attempted kidnapping of movie star Mary Pickford. Sometimes, a surfeit of detail overwhelms the narrative, but the stories are always engaging, and dozens of period photos help readers put faces to names
The crime scenes are anchored in social history, offering Jenning a chance to dig into topics like Los Angeles's attempts to stop dust bowl refugees from entering California, which resonates with current headlines. Indeed, Angelenos became obsessed with protecting themselves from wicked Eastern U.S. cities. Readers meet preacher-reformers who battled vice—and who accuse Raymond of corruption. The charges fascinate, even as Raymond himself never fully comes into focus: Was he a hero or opportunist? But this ambiguous figure proves a grand "spokesman" for this scrupulous history that rounds up so many other ambiguous figures, as well as the political and criminal battles they fought.
Takeaway: Fans of both history and noir fiction will revel in the many true-life crime accounts in pre-war Southern California.
Great for fans of: John Buntin’s L.A. Noir, Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: B+