Don’t Let The Palm Trees Fool You
Ten of the best Hollywood Crime Novels
- GET SHORTY by Elmore Leonard
Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard
Take a Miami wise guy and drop him into Hollywood development hell. Not only does Chili Palmer raise hell, but he finds traction wheeling and dealing with Hollywood players. It is all not much different from his profession as a gangster. Elmore Leonard had many books and short stories adapted (some even twice) and had written for the screen over the years so he knows this treacherous terrain. It’s no surprise Hollywood loves Get Shorty. The novel has been adapted as both a movie starring John Travolta and a TV series with Ray Romano.
2. WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN by Budd Schulberg
What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg
You won’t find this novel in the mystery section, but it should be there. Former New York copyboy Sammy Glick climbs the Hollywood ladder by stealing intellectual property, plagiarizing and deceiving others. Our title character double-crosses and betrays his way to wealth and power but, ultimately, never finds true love. This could be a gangster tragedy. Maybe the reason this iconic novel has never made it to the screen is because it cuts so close to the bone.
3. MONEY SHOT by Christa Faust
Money Shot by Christa Faust
Set in Hollywood’s seedy porn underbelly, this Edgar- and Anthony-award-nominated pulp masterpiece is the first in a series featuring former adult entertainer Angel Dare. The bad guys betrayed her and left her for dead, but they underestimated Angel’s grit, smarts, and tenacity. A former peep show performer herself, Christa Faust was the first female author to be published by Hard Case Crime. This novel is simply brilliant, pure page-turning pulp. Megan Abbott called it “a stunner… the literary equivalent of a gasoline cocktail.”
4. HOLLYWOOD by Charles Bukowski
Hollywood by Charles Bukowski
Another title you won’t find in the crime and mystery section, but this novel contains puzzles to be solved. With all the ingredients of LA noir, this is Bukowski’s fictionalized but also semi-autobiographical account of how Barfly made it to the big screen. LA’s favorite vulgar poet named names but his publisher’s legal team forced Bukowski to rename the celebrities in his book. The mystery is deciphering who’s who: Sean Penn, Dennis Hopper, director Barbet Schroeder, producer Menahem Golan, Francis Ford Coppola (this one’s easy, Frances Ford Lopalla), Tom Jones, David Lynch, Madonna, Norman Mailer, Werner Herzog, Mickey Rourke, and Faye Dunaway. Bukowski’s vivid description of cretin street-kids robbing director Barbet Schroeder’s squalid Venice Beach shack is bona fide LA noir.
5. DIE A LITTLE by Megan Abbott
Die a Little by Megan Abbott
This is the Edgar-nominated debut novel from the writer who has been hailed “The Queen of Noir.” Die a Little takes place in Hollywood’s 1950s and explores characters on the fringes of glamorous. A schoolteacher’s life is turned upside down when her brother falls for a wardrobe assistant with a mysterious past. Things go from bad to worse. This is a hybrid of both literary fiction and classic pulp—an impressive debut.
6. MURDER UNSCRIPTED / RED DAWN / VELVET ON A TUESDAY AFTERNOON by Clive Rosengren
Murder Unscripted / Red Desert / Velvet on a Tuesday Afternoon by Clive Rosengren
This exceptional series has twice been shortlisted for the Shamus Award and is well worth checking out. Eddie Collins is a world-weary private eye but also a workmanlike character actor waiting for the phone to ring. Eddie’s got a knack for solving mysteries and he’s a true force to be reckoned with. Author Clive Rosengren worked as an actor for over 30 years and knows the arena inside-and-out. About private eye Eddie Collins, Tom Hanks quotes, “I wouldn’t mess with him, but you’d want his number in your wallet.”
7. DATING IS MURDER by Harley Jane Kozak
Dating is Murder by Harley Jane Kozak
Since reality television plays such a dominant role, no list would be complete without Harley Jane Kozak’s hilarious second installment in her Wollie Shelley series. Wollie’s brassy 19-year-old German au pair friend has gone missing as time ticks down on the TV reality show she is a contestant on titled Biological Clock. The journey leads to the FBI, LAPD, and a ruthless international drug cartel. Kozak is a working actor, having appeared in many hits (When Harry Met Sally, Parenthood, Arachnophobia), and she writes what she knows. This is a fun, well-crafted mystery chock-full of laugh-out-loud moments.
8. PIMP by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr
Pimp by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr
Not to be confused with Iceberg Slim’s iconic autobiography by the same title, this is the fourth entry into the Max Fischer and Angela Petrakos series—and they go Hollywood. Crime fiction readers first met these two treacherous ne’er-do-wells in Hard Case Crime’s Bust, followed up by Slide and then The Max. The co-authors have topped themselves with each installment. To fully appreciate this depraved, darkly comic series, start with Bust. Nothing is sacred. A guilty pleasure.
9. THE TRUE LIFE STORY OF JODY MCGEEGAN by Don Carpenter.
The True Life Story of Jody McKeegan by Don Carpenter
From the author of Hard Rain Falling, The True Life Story’s aspiring actress lands a part in a B movie in 1970s Hollywood. Navigating sordid hustlers, she pursues her dream in a fight for redemption. Released in the mid-’70s, this novel was long out of print but now three of Don Carpenter’s books set in Hollywood are combined as The Hollywood Trilogy, which includes A Couple of Comedians and Turnaround. Carpenter wrote for film and television in the ’70s. Although this is not necessarily considered a crime novel, it has all the right ingredients.
10. I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME by Horace McCoy
I Should Have Stayed Home by Horace McCoy
A pair of small town wannabes desire fame and fortune in this hard-boiled portrait of Hollywood during the Depression-era 1930s.Horace McCoy is the author of the lit classic They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, and this novel, although dated, is proof that would-be actors and actresses have always flocked to Hollywood and always will. The crime is petty, but the stakes are high. Some things never change.
John Shepphird is a writer and director of nine feature films and many hours of television, as well as an avid reader of Hollywood Crime Novels. His debut novel, Bottom Feeders, from Blackstone Publishing is available April 24, 2018.
“From years of experience fighting in the trenches of low-budget films, Shepphird has crafted a pulse-pounding thriller of page-turning fun.”—Andrew Marlowe, creator and executive producer of ABC’s Castle.
Ten Best Hollywood Crime Novels by John Shepphird