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Patrick Jenning
The Long Winding Road of Harry Raymond: A Detective's Journey Down the Mean Streets of Pre-War Los Angeles
Harry Raymond is remembered by historians today for surviving a bomb placed in his automobile by a secret squad of the Los Angeles Police Department. After the bombing, newspapers across the country ran photographs showing him stalwartly smoking a cigarette while doctors removed shrapnel from his legs. This brazen attempt on his life would transform Los Angeles, leading to the recall of the mayor, the termination of many Los Angeles Police Department leaders, and the imprisonment of members of a secret LAPD police squad. The assassination attempt would also fuel the growth of Las Vegas, to where many LA underworld figures migrated afterward. For some, Harry Raymond would go down in Los Angeles history as a modern knight in the story of the city’s corrupt days, a real-life Philip Marlowe. Others, looking back at his previous career, regarded him as the kind of cop Marlowe hated: brutal and unscrupulous. Although Raymond often worked for the LAPD as a special investigator, he also associated with leading underworld figures of the twenties and thirties. Although it was never clear which side he was on, there was no doubt that he knew a lot about what was wrong with Los Angeles and almost paid the ultimate price for his knowledge. While my book focuses mainly on Raymond’s career, its backdrop is LA’s growth in the first decades of the twentieth century. It not only tells Raymond’s story for the first time but also recounts the history of LA’s criminal underworld in the pre-War era. It should appeal both to the general public and scholars interested in the history of Los Angeles in the first part of the twentieth century.
This colorful anecdotal history of crime in pre-war Los Angeles presents a lively cast of cops, criminals and reformers who, for better or worse, gave us modern Southern California. Most of the action is seen through the eyes of Harry Raymond, a police detective and private investigator, who is involved in many of the period’s key cases. Raymond gains and loses many jobs due to the turbulent politics of the time, when the line could be vanishingly thin between policeman and felon. The corruption eventually boils over into a violent confrontation that almost costs Raymond his life, and marks the end of an era.

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.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: A-
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B+