MURRAY SINCLAIR – Only in L.A. A&W Publishers, hardcover, 1982. Pinnacle, paperback, 1983. Black Lizard, paperback, 1988.

   If what you’re looking for in the detective fiction you read is mood and atmosphere, this is the book for you. It’s a broody melodrama that in a very strong way, is a modern-day paean to life in the sleazier sections of southern California, although from the outside, “paean” would hardly seem to be the right word to use.

   Neither pacing nor consistency of tone is a problem for Sinclair. He hits a single note on the very first page, and he holds it throughout the rest of the book, apparently without even straining. Both he and his hero, screenwriter Ben Crandel, view Los Angeles as the ultimate symbol of a dying culture at the end of its spiritual life-line.

   A citizens’ group central to the plot attempts to make Hollywood the adult entertainment capital of the US, and foolishly so, as if it weren’t already.

   Crandel’s first appearance was in Tough Luck L. A., a paperback original from Pinnacle, and to say that the mystery involved in that earlier book, and its solution, were totally incomprehensible would be an act of high charity. Sinclair has a much better hold on his story line this time around, but only if you consider massive unexplained coincidence as the ultimate in plotting devices.

   On the other hand, it occurs to me that perhaps we’re meant only to consider it an indispensable part of the delirious madness and seedy, sour-tasting pornography that Crandel finds himself swallowed up by, as he desperately tries to find his adopted son’s kidnappers.

   It’s a point of view, and I’m sure it’s a valid one. It’s like spinach, though. You can sit and admire all its fine qualities all you want, and still be awfully glad you don’t have to eat any.

Rating:   C plus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 6, November-December 1982 (somewhat revised)

[UPDATE] 08-26-15.   The first book in the series, Tough Luck L. A. (Pinnacle, 1980) was nominated for an Edgar in the Best Paperback Original category. There was a third book in the series, Goodbye, L.A. (Black Lizard, 1988), which I have not read.