Scandalous L.A. examined in “A Bright and Guilty Place”

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David E. Ulin, Book Editor for the Los Angeles Times, recently sat down with local author Richard Rayner to discuss sordid celebrities of the 20’s, infamous murder trials, and the birth of L.A. Noir. This conversation was part of the ALOUD series at the Los Angeles Central Library.

“There is a mysterious allure about Los Angeles. I don’t know what it is or what that connection is, but I know it’s pretty powerful,” commented Rayner on his personal fascination with the city.


Rayner moved to Los Angeles from England in the 80’s  around the time of the Olympics.  After writing an article about the Los Angeles riots, Rayner was contacted by New York Magazine to write a piece about the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).

“I got to know a lot of cops through that piece,” said Rayner.

In fact getting in deep with the LAPD exposed Rayner to a different side of Los Angeles. Which is why his recent non-fiction title, A Bright and Guilty Place, has a darker sensibility then his previous books.

Rayner goes back through the city’s history to pinpoint when and where this dark, seedy, side of Los Angeles crystallized, setting the tone for Noir.  He characterizes Los Angeles as a sprawling city with hidden secrets and in some parts, a pretty dark past.

The story, based on true events, revolves around David Clark — a native Angeleno, working at a major downtown law firm that represents clients with oil interests.

Clark was on the fast track. In no time he was working for District Attorney’s office  as a prosecutor in high profile cases. Suddenly, in an “L.A. minute,” Clark was on the other side of the bench and was put on trial  in 1931 for rubbing out the head of a gangster organization.

The discussion between Ulin and Rayner turned from the book to a closer look at the physiology that makes up Los Angeles, examining how high profile murder trials are glamourized— as though the city demands ‘celebrity-style’ spectacular trials—only to move on. Once they’re done, these trails fade into the city’s shadow history where they’re for the most part forgotten.

When the conversation  opened to those in attendance,  it became apparent that most of whom gathered that day were native Los Angelenos and fans of Raymond Chandler.  This proved to be quite a provocative conversation among those who seemed to know the most obscure details about the city, which makes one wonder if the history of Los Angeles is as deep as the city is big.

Atina Hartunian’s articles have appeared in the North Valley Community News,  The Armenian Reporter,  The Pasadena Weekly, as well as current urban development for She is also a website content manager and freelance writer:

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Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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