Last night I began reading Casanegra by Blair Underwood (with Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes), in preparation for an event at the Glendora Library this weekend. I have been a fan of Blair Underwood as an actor, and Steven Barnes as a writer, for some time, which is why I have picked up a book that is outside my routine.
If my reading patterns were hiking trails, the genre hiking trail containing Casanegrafor would be fairly overgrown from lack of passage. I don't read a lot of "straight" mystery stories. When I do read a mystery it tends to fall into one of three categories. They are either extraordinarily noir like a James Ellroy novel, science fiction/fantasy related like Steven Brust's Jhereg books, or "literary" like The Moonstone. Thankfully this book falls into the first category (noir) and takes place in one of my favorite noir cities, Los Angeles.
Those of you who listen to my online radio show probably know that when I read or watch something that takes place in Los Angeles, I really want it feel like it takes place in the city where I live. I don't like things that make Los Angeles look too glitzy, or that overlook the dark sides of the city. I also don't like things that make the darker elements of the city look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Neither is true. Los Angeles is a wonderfully complex urban environment that has a lot to offer a storyteller and a reader/viewer. I have come to love this city and its neighbors, even though (or likely because) my first five years in Los Angeles were spent in the Baldwin Village section of the Crenshaw district. I often describe Los Angeles as a geode. It looks rough on the outside, but when you crack it open you find some pretty wonderful stuff.
I am only a third of the way through Casanegra, but I can already tell that it does in fact take place in the "city I live in." But I did encounter one little bump along the way, and it happened very early. The book describes one of the characters in the following way, [she] "had more brokers on her speed-dial than a girl from the Baldwin Hills "Jungle" had any right to fantasize about." I had to do a quick double take. From my understanding, "Baldwin Hills" is the more affluent area just West of La Brea, whereas Baldwin Village, "The Jungle," is the area East of La Brea is the thoroughly gang dominated neighborhood where I used to live.
If you click on the map below you will be directed to a larger image where you can see three arrows. The green arrow is the intersection of Hillcrest and Martin Luther King Jr. which, according to Wikipedia, marks the center of "the Jungle." You can also see La Brea, as a dividing line, on the far west of the map.
Baldwin Village was not very far from Culver City, where my wife and I went to mass, but the environments were night and day. I still believe that the inner city grocery stores are given lower quality produce and dairy products.
The purple arrow along Rodeo Road is the location of my old apartment, the track across the street is Dorsey High School.
The red arrow marks the location where the body of the Black Dahlia was discovered, it is about two blocks away from the Krispy Kreme on Crenshaw across the street from the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall.
It was after checking the map and reading up on what "exactly" is considered The Jungle that I overcame my little speed bump. I think it would be fair to say that since the "Baldwin Hills" mall is in the Jungle that one might imagine someone referring to the area as Baldwin Hills instead of Baldwin Village. So I was able to jump back into the book and continue my walk along the path. I do have some stories regarding my experience living in the area, but most of those will have to wait for another time. Needless to say, watching Remember the Titans early on a Wednesday afternoon at the Magic Johnson theaters is not on the list of wise choices I have made, but it was a choice I was glad to have made.