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Behind the Glitz and Glamour: 7 Noir Books Set in Hollywood 

Don't let the bright lights blind you. 

hollywood noir books mm feb 2024
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  • Photo Credit: Jake Blucker / Unsplash

It’s that time of year where all eyes turn to Hollywood: Oscar season. Speculations abound as people wonder about who will win an Oscar and what people will wear on the red carpet. But behind the glitz and glamour, there’s a dark side. Tempers run high when money, fame, and love are at stake.  

So in honor of the big event and the studios behind it, here are seven books of noirish murder and mayhem in Hollywood. 

cover of Hollywood Hustle by Jon lindstrom

Hollywood Hustle

By Jon Lindstrom

Faded film star Winston Greene faces a harrowing awakening when his six-year-old granddaughter approaches his bedside alone and traumatized with nothing but a thumb drive in hand. The drive contains video evidence, revealing that Winston's troubled adult daughter has fallen victim to a murderous gang. They demand his "movie money" for her release, oblivious to the fact that his cinematic fortune is a thing of the past.

Fearful that involving the police will result in his daughter's death as per the kidnappers' threat, Winston seeks assistance from two trusted allies—a renowned Hollywood stuntman and a former LAPD detective with a tarnished reputation.

Winston and his daughter face a dire predicament with the ruthless gang, who stop at nothing to obtain the money they seek. As Winston realizes the grim reality that he must outsmart the kidnappers to secure his daughter's safe return, the stakes become increasingly daunting.

In this suspenseful narrative, family ties collide with a criminal underworld, pushing Winston into a struggle between loyalty and a shadowy past.

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The Little Sister

By Raymond Chandler

No one quite marries eloquent prose and noir together as well as Chandler.  When Orfamay Quest asks Philip Marlowe to find her older brother Orrin, he hadn’t expected that a missing persons case would result in so much murder. As he keeps finding bodies with ice picks in their necks, he finds himself in the middle of Hollywood blackmail and the mob.

Will he get to the bottom of this out-of-control case or will he also find himself with an ice pick in his neck too? It's the fifth in an eight-book series featuring Philip Marlowe. 

la confidential for hollywood noir books mm feb 2024

L.A. Confidential

By James Ellroy

Many may know this work from the well-received film version, but it’s always worth returning to the source material. While Hollywood is known for having violence on screen, there’s a lot of violence in real-life Hollywood. Three cops find their fates intertwined after they brutalize prisoners after getting drunk at a Christmas party.

They may not have much in common but they find their cases intertwined. It’s full of corruption, drugs, mobsters, Hollywood starlets, and a whole lot of blackmail. This is book 3 of Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet series. 

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Die a Little

By Megan Abbott

This is Abbott’s debut novel. Lora and her brother Bill lead very straight-laced jobs; she’s a schoolteacher, he’s an attorney. Plus they only have each other as family. So when Bill falls for a Hollywood wardrobe assistant named Alice and marries her, Lora finds herself surprised, repulsed, and riveted with Alice’s life and her seemingly dark past. 

Lora starts looking into Alice’s past and finds herself in the dark side of Hollywood. But then Lora starts to find that she kinda likes it. Can Lora find herself and protect her brother? Will Alice’s past sins cause Bill and Lora to be punished? 

a man named doll

A Man Named Doll

By Jonathan Ames

This one feels like a modern take on Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. After serving in the Navy and working at the LAPD, Happy Doll works as a private detective and security at a Thai spa (which is a front for a house of ill-repute).  When an old work friend comes to him about trading a kidney for a lot of money, Doll thinks something is not quite right.

Unfortunately, his suspicions come true when his friend drags himself to his doorstep after being shot. Not only that, Doll finds himself in hot water when he has a violent encounter with an unruly patron at the Thai spa. Trying to get to the bottom of his friend’s death and out of the police’s gaze takes him to Hollywood Hills and beyond. It’s the first one two books about Happy Doll. 

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The Long Silence

By Gerard O'Donovan

The first in the Tom Collins series, Irish-American investigator Tom Collins left New York to work for a studio, only to be given the sack. But when a director, William Desmond Taylor is found murdered, Collins is asked by Mack Sennett, the head of the studio, who fears Mabel Normand may have been involved but she’s gone missing.

Collins ends up in the labyrinthine world of Hollywood, in and out of speakeasies, trying to find Normand and find out who killed the director. 

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The Mysterious Double Death of Honey Black

By Lisa Hall

Lily Jones came to LA to become a movie producer but the closest she has gotten is cleaning the Beverly Hills Hotel, the site of the famous murder of actress Honey Black 70 years ago. But when Lily bumps her head, she finds herself taken back 70 years, two weeks before Honey’s murder.

She decides that she must stop the murder. But that means figuring out who is the would-be murderer?  

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Last Night at the Hollywood Canteen

By Sarah James

Hollywood Canteen was Hollywood’s contribution to the war. Denizens of Hollywood performed and worked there, providing servicemen a taste of what they were fighting for. Murder mystery playwright Annie Laurence came to Hollywood when she got an offer to write musicals.

She decided to check out the Canteen and befriends a group of folks who call themselves the Ambassador’s Club. But when one of them, a film critic, is found dead in the kitchen, Laurence doesn’t believe it was a suicide—and decides to have to dive into the other side of Hollywood. 

Featured photo: Jake Blucker / Unsplash