Killian Czuba is Barrelhouse's art director. She makes comics and fiction and daydreams about being mad swole and/or a detective. She recently founded the interdisciplinary collective @apiary_life, and co-created and illustrated an anthology of adventure stories by rad lady writers (The Egret's Crossing). She subsists primarily on tv and twitter and gifs of baby fruit bats. For a good time, follow @killianczuba.
Erin Fitzgerald is Online Editor at Barrelhouse, and an associate editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her stories have appeared in fine publications such as Salt Hill, PANK, and the anthology Gigantic Worlds. She lives in Connecticut, and on Twitter as @gnomeloaf.
Dave Housley is one of the founding editors and all around do-stuff people at Barrelhouse. His third collection of short fiction, “If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home,” was released in January 2015 by Dzanc Books. His previous collections are “Commercial Fiction” (Outpost 19) and “Ryan Seacrest is Famous” (Impetus Press, Dzanc Books eBook Reprint Series). Sometimes he drinks boxed wine and tweets about the things on his television at@housleydave.
Joshua Isard is the author of the novel Conquistador of the Useless (Cinco Puntos Press 2013), an homage to two of his favorite things: grunge rock and the Philadelphia suburbs. He's also written some short stories, which have appeared in journals like The Broadkill Review, Northwind, and Story Chord. He is the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Arcadia University, and lives in those Philly 'burbs with his wife, daughter, and two cats.
Toni Jensen lives in Arkansas with a husband, child, dog, and many ants. Her first story collection, From the Hilltop, was published through the Native Storiers Series at the University of Nebraska Press. Her stories have been published in journals and anthologized in New Stories from the South, Best of the Southwest, and Best of the West: Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri. She follows the Oklahoma City Thunder like it’s her job, but it is not. She teaches creative writing at the University of Arkansas.
Steph Post is the author of the novel A Tree Born Crooked. Her short fiction and poetry has most recently been published in Haunted Waters: From the Depths, The Round-Up, The Gambler Mag, Foliate Oak and Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics. She teaches writing in St. Petersburg, Florida. Check her out at www.stephpostfiction.com and follow her on twitter at @stephpostauthor.
DH: To start, let’s talk a little about last season. I think Nic Pizzolatto almost did himself and the show a disservice last year with the few paranormal-seeming flourishes in the beginning episodes. One one hand, that was part of what created the excitement around the show: there were internet theories (hoo boy, were there!) and people talking about whether this was a new Twin Peaks, a new kind of noir paranormal/spiritual thriller, some new kind of something. In the end, the show turned out to be a really well done crime story, which, in hindsight, wasn’t really a surprise. It was a little bit of a disappointment, I think, for a lot of people: the show seemed like it was reaching for something different/new, and then in the long run, it was “just” a very well executed crime story with some exceptional performances by really famous people, and very high production values. I don’t know that that would have been a disappointment if not for those few moments when it seemed like something else was happening, or could be, and I don’t think there even were that many of them (Rust staring at the birds that form a circle in the air, for instance). If you read Galveston, Pizzolatto’s novel, I think it becomes fairly clear that he’s working more in the territory of George Pelecanos than David Lynch (also, a lot of the stuff he’s working with in the first season of True Detective is happening in Galveston, too, which is interesting), which is to say he’s working in the crime genre, using the stuff that it has to offer and doing it really well.
That’s a super long way of introducing a question, and it’s all my opinion, of course, so here’s the question: what do you think those expectations from the first season mean for the second? Are you going to be disappointed if we “only” get a well done crime story?
JI: In season one, while I liked the weirdness, I never really thought there was going to be a supernatural explanation for it all, like a lot of people did. I was more into the arcane literary references (Chambers’s The King in Yellow, etc.). I know the reference is to supernatural literature, but I don’t know, it just never seemed to me like magic was going to be the answer with those two characters in season 1. So I was cool with the realism, bizarre as it was.
And then after last season I read Galveston, which is a straight crime story, and does include a few of the little things, like the beer can men, in True Detective—interesting to read, and Pizzolatto probably has all that out of his system now. I feel like the people who read the book probably have more reasonable expectations for what season two will be, since, based on both works, Pizzolatto is clearly more like James Ellroy than H.P. Lovecraft. I’m very cool with that.
But I think the real expectations come less from the story, and more from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. I mean, there’s no way that kind of chemistry is happening again. And of the new cast members, while I like them, I really think only Colin Farrell is even capable of a performance like the first two guys. Love Vince Vaughn, and Rachel McAdams was really good in episode one, but McConaughey and Harrelson were in another league last year.
Props for not setting up the same dynamic this year, though. There doesn’t seem to be any buddy cop thing based on ep. 1, so we can’t really make that chemistry comparison. I love that deviation from the first season, but it was also kind of messy. There seem to be four main characters this season, and I didn’t love that in episode one, but since it now seems like they’ll all be deeply involved in the same case, I’m hopeful the dynamic gets better.
DH: Totally agree on the greatness of McConaughey and Harrelson really pulling a lot of the weight in season 1. One of the not-encouraging things I read about Season 2 was Pizzolatto saying something like, “well it’s sure as hell not going to be two guys driving around in a car talking.” But two guys driving around in a car talking was the best part of last season!
Also, I thought they gave a really nice wink to Rust’s visions from last season when Velcoro and the other cop walk into Casper’s apartment and they see that weird (sculpture?) thing of the naked woman kind of swimming around in this white liquid and he says something like “tell me that you see that, too.” Good one!
SP: I think that Pizzolatto (and the show in general this season) is going to be bait for criticism in comparing in comparing it to the first season. For all of the issues that people had with the first True Detective, I still believe that it’s one of the finer pieces of television/cinema writing and I have very few problems with any of it. In anticipation of season 2, I’ve had to constantly remind myself that one the points of True Detective was to not have a continuous series. From the outset, it was stated that each season would be a new storyline, with new characters, new setting, etc., all tied together with the concept of what it means to be a ‘true detective,’ however that conclusion is reached.
With that in mind, I think it’s easy to immediately draw comparisons between the two seasons, but I also think that will lead to a complicated and rocky road. One of the things I loved most about the first season (that Josh points out above) were the arcane references to The King in Yellow, In the Dust of this Planet, etc. The season was a literary/philosophy/anthropology dream and I’m not even hoping for that same rabbit hole in the second season. I’m just hoping to see something AS complex in the layers of storytelling references.
I also think that Dave brings up an important point with the genre of “just” a crime story. From everything I’ve seen in this first episode, I believe that Pizzolatto is aiming for a story much more rooted in the traditional noir genre. And though oftentimes we think of noir as being simple and stark, the plot lines that accompany it are usually messy- just as we are seeing here. I think a lot of viewers are going to find this to be a major flaw in the storyline, whereas I believe Pizzolatto is deliberately showcasing these elements of classic noir writing.
KC: I see noir, and I also see that touch of surrealism that I enjoyed so much previously. I wasn’t necessarily on Team Supernatural or Team Just Crime, but I enjoyed that surrealism. Brains are so strange, sometimes in delicate ways that fiction--even visually-based fiction like TV/movies--doesn’t always convey well. Like Dave, I enjoyed the woman’s body floating in the milky soup--the way it throws you off a little, but it’s absolutely intentional. In fact, I think the surreal elements, tiny as they might be (and who knows if there will be any more this season), bring us into the bridge between Noir and Gothic lit. Now, admittedly contemporary gothic lit is my wheelhouse (Twin Peaks, Black Hole, Stumptown, anything Flannery O, etc.), so I’m going to appreciate a show that puts in all the little pieces I like: psychological and physical terror; hopelessness and madness; alienation and exile; mystery and the supernatural; the crumbling structures (buildings) of human creation being toppled by entropy; a hero(ine) plagued by guilt and fear of the existential. All we need is the perversion of religion in s02, and we’ve got gothic. Season 1 had it all, and played it like noir. The only disappointment for me was the very end, though I don’t know how one would really pull that out. Did Cohle really need to find hope in his near-death experience? I don’t think so. You could argue that that’s how it works IRL, but I’d say you’re an optimist who’s bluffing.
EF: I haven’t seen the first season, and I have a feeling that this season is going to make me go watch that one. I know better than to quit a show like this after one episode, but so far? Season 2 is not clicking for me. You all likely know better than I do how much of a factor no previous experience is.
JI: Erin, you might actually be in the best position to judge. We're all holding this season up to the last, but it's supposed to be pretty independent. I'll just say that when I watched ep. 1 of season 1, I did nothing else, was totally in it for the duration. This season, I checked Twitter a few times, and read an email. Definitely not the same effect.
KC: Josh is totally right, Erin. You’ve got the best seat in the house.
I love that each season is independent (more TV should do this--we live in the perfect age to make a one-season TV show when we used to have to pick between: three-to-seven seasons or a movie), but I think they should have changed the lead writer in that case, too. I realize that switching it all up doesn’t make practical sense, since it’s Pizzolatto’s baby, but it would put focus back on the writing and the creative relationship with the directing (I’m noticing this season is directed by more than one person, which is interesting--we’ll lack some consistency there), and we could read it as it’s own season. I think it’s a mistake to have the same writer running it.
TJ: I only ever read the first season as Southern gothic, not as otherworldly. But Southern gothic does teeter on that line. I love that line--it’s maybe my favorite literary line--right next to the crime fiction/literary fiction line. I do also like noir and crime family or crime boss fiction, which seems to be where we’re going so far in Season 2. But I don’t love them, and so far, Season 2 is not steering me toward love. The body floating in milk and all the panoramic shots of California are working toward those lines. Are we in a surreal or a real world? I love that sense of questioning prompted by the visuals. But so far, the dialogue and the acting are not in the same elevated league as Season 1. It’s like watching college ball (this season so far) vs. the NBA Finals (Season 1).
DH: Place played a huge role in True Detective last season, and it looks like it’s going to again this season. California is really a character in the show, especially with all those aerial shots. Let’s talk about how that works here, how place works in noir and crime stories in particular, and maybe even a little about the legacy of California noir/crime, which is pretty rich (Raymond Chandler, Kem Nunn, the Easy Rawlins and Socrates Fortlow stories by Walter Mosley, not to mention the movie Chinatown, which I think looms a little over this story already). Interested to hear what everybody has to say about this, but especially Steph, whose great novel A Tree Born Crooked is rooted in Florida the way this story seems to be rooted in California.
SP: I agree with you about California being a character (just as southern Louisiana was in the first season) and I think that building a story upon a place really helps to define the mood of the plot and the tone of the writing. Crime stories in particular are built around specific characters types and these types are always “indigenous” to the setting. This is perhaps because crime stories are more external, whereas some literary fiction is more internal. Noir and crime stories involve what happens to the characters (even if there is a lot of internal brooding at times), as they are assaulted by outside circumstances- usually in the form of the crime. The particular setting is part of that assault. It’s why The Wire defines Baltimore and Chinatown defines Los Angeles in the late 30s and so on.
JI: I definitely agree with everyone on the way California's a character, and like the way Steph phrases this, that it's "part of the assault" on the characters. I have to admit, this is the thing that made me the most nervous about season two. I've seen Chinatown (ages ago, totally need to Netflix that soon), and read a bunch of James Ellroy novels. Also, and this is completely personal preference, I just don't like L.A. that much, as a city or a setting. I know it's more than Hollywood, but that dominates everything, and even creeps into episode one when Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) pulls over the actress. You can't escape it, even in a gritty story like True Detective.
Louisiana was so cool because the part of the state in which season one took place was new, fresh, a character I wanted to learn about. I feel like it's impossible to pull that off with Los Angeles, a city we've all seen and read about so many times. And, also, I dig on Southern Gothic books (Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, and more recently Aaron Gwyn), so there's a little more of that personal preference thing.
But, this is one of those elements that differentiates the seasons, and I'm sure Pizzolatto knew it. So, I reserve judgement.
KC: Being a Chinatown junkie, I think this feels pretty different: we’re dealing with an industrial California rather than a glamorous one. In fact, until I saw the CA license plate on the dead man’s car, I thought we were in Detroit. Maybe someone told me it took place in Detroit, so that’s what I was prepped for? It does have a touch of the LA Confidential vibe going on--but that’s a character thing more than setting.
JI: I can see the industrial side of things, that's a good point. But there were also plentiful ocean vistas and beach-side highways. I do like the fictional Vinci—it's based on a real town, Vernon CA, which really has a corrupt past that inspired this season. I guess if we could take the L.A. out of it, this would be a very cool kind of California, a different one. We'll see, maybe that's how the story goes.
KC: I’m totally going to check out the history of Vernon now... *dies in Wikipedia rabbit hole*
EF: I love how the settings are presented. There’s just the slightest of steps outside of the cues to which we’re accustomed. A brown, tired California, cops shadowed from different angles, a bar and a banquet hall that exist more in dream than reality. The only immediately familiar element: The actress, who we learn soon enough has a dreary ankle monitor. I thought that was a good choice of rulebreaker.
DH: Agreed! I really like this California because it’s a different, but still very specific one. It feels more like Chandler’s LA, which was weary and dirty and full of backstabbers, and of course also femme fatales wearing the equivalent of ankle bracelets. I think there’s a really ripe noir history there, and it will be interesting to see where they take it and how it plays into the season as it progresses.
TJ: The key to good California noir, for me, is the pairing of the visuals with the dialogue. Noir dialogue often borders on the absurd or awkward or obvious, so the delivery needs to carry it. I couldn’t decide in Episode 1 if the actors often weren’t carrying the dialogue, or if they had been given dialogue to heavy for anyone to carry. But in either case, the awkwardness was a distraction throughout, as were some of the noirish visual choices. I know it’s a convention of noir to have the camera focus tight on a character’s face as he/she broods and then to leave it there a beat too long. Still, the close ups on Bezzerides (after she encounters first her sister doing sort-of porn and then her dad doing sort-of evangelism) made me want to throw something at the television. Too. Many. Torturous. Pauses. Even for a California show, even for noir. Also, the retro vibe that often accompanies noir isn’t quite working yet in Episode 1. It was difficult to tell, at first, if we were in the ‘80s or ‘90s, and then there’s one reference to a computer, and then in the last ten minutes, the characters each seem to suddenly remember their cell phones. The idea of this less tech-driven world maybe can work in creating a retro, noirish world, but it’s not quite working yet.
WRITER MOVE (?): BREAKING THE DREAM
DH: So I think there were a few “writer moves” last night and I don’t know if either of them worked for me, or if anybody else noticed or cared. The first one -- and I think this is more of a “TV writer move” than a writer writer move, which is kind of discouraging for this project -- is in the bar scene near the end of the episode. Velcoro and Semyon are in the same bar, and there are all of these broody close-ups on their faces and drinks and etc, and this broody singer songwritery woman is on stage singing a song about her “least favorite life.” It makes (a little bit of) sense as a kind of brooding rock video. And that is the only way the presence of that artist on that stage makes any kind of sense at all. In the world of the story, where the actual reality of the scene is that they’re in a kind of rundown bar that I assume Vince Vaughn owns, where you can smoke inside in California and pass out and nobody bothers you, that person is not on stage at that bar singing that song. It’s just not a thing, and it did take me “out of the dream” as we say in fiction workshops, because it was just so clearly a thing that made sense only in a cinematic, navelgazey kind of way. In the world of the story, somebody throws a beer at that (genuinely interesting) artist and punches ZZ Top into the jukebox and everybody goes about their business and stops all the fucking brooding.
The other, I thought similar moment, was at the very end, when the story really goes to some lengths to assemble all our law enforcement in a circle around this dead guy (god knows how long Woodrugh had to stand there and brood until Bezzerides shows up, and then how long the two of them have to brood (and maybe sober up) until Velcoro wakes up, sobers, up, and gets over to the scene. The moment at the end was just so manufactured, and maybe because I think part of it had been used in the promos, it just rang totally false to me, like the story had stretched itself specifically to create this moment that could be used in the trailer for the story. As somebody who loved how literary last season of True Detective was, possibly trading the literary references for cinematic strokes that maybe don’t make sense or service the overall story didn’t feel like a great start to me.
SP: I agree with you, Dave, on your first example, though I did liked the ending “circle” moment. The bar scene with Velcoro and Semyon didn’t work for me at all. I mean, cinematically it was beautiful, but it wasn’t real. It was almost like a dream sequence of sorts. I mentioned above that I think Pizzolatto is showcasing the noir genre, but here is where he’s doing what exactly what I fear about that move- he’s overdoing it. He’s taking the cliche to the extreme and it’s too early in the story to do that and have it mean something (as a wink to noir fans/writers, etc.) This scene also, unfortunately, devalued the characters for me. If this scene had occurred in, say, episode 6, it might have worked. But it was too showy here and tries too hard to create characters type that are not original. I would have been happy if this scene had been left out altogether.
I did like the end scene around Casper’s body, though. It is manufactured? Yes, but it also works to pull the four characters (Semyon through Casper) together. This is where I have to remind myself that it’s a television show, not a novel. In a novel, the writer can wait until chapter 4 to show the characters connections to the reader. Hell, she can wait until halfway through the story to do so. In a television show, that needs to hook its viewers in a one hour time span, the writer doesn’t have as much room for development. Essentially, all of the characters have to be introduced and tied together in the first chapter. And with four main characters- this is some pressure. It’s flashy yes, but I think scene works. I hope, though, that it bought Pizzolatto some time and he’ll be able to slow everything down in the second episode.
JI: I had a bigger problem with the final circle than with the scene in the bar. That last scene felt like it should have been in the tenth minute. I get why it wasn't, since the main characters needed to be introduced, but taking a whole episode for those introductions... I don't know. I'm definitely ready to go for episode two, but feel like episode one was more of a preface, and that last moment just summed up the frustrations I had.
The bar scene, I loved it. Yes, it was over the top, self-indulgent, and there's no way that bar exists in the world of this story—agreed—but man, I want it to. It was this kind of fantasy world of a crime boss, and that's part of what pulp style stories are all about. The stylization just added to that feeling. Also, it was just two characters, which harkened back to season one's strength (though definitely not with the same chemistry between actors). And the song was awesome. And I liked the way Colin Farrell downed Johnny Walker Blue. All one notch overdone, but still working for me.
EF: The bar scene grated on me. After 45 minutes of watching men wearily deal with attractive, demanding women who Won’t Listen to Reason, the first shot in the bar was of a comparatively less attractive female whose music suggests she (somehow!) understands the struggle. I thought: Look at that! A big tonal and thematic shift that signals ‘Pay attention!’ It soured the rest for me. Though admittedly, I was already soured. On the other hand, I liked the circle at the end -- probably because it was mostly environmental. And if nothing else, I thought the episode was beautifully presented.
SP: The number one issue I had with last night’s episode was purely from a writer’s standpoint. And perhaps this is just a writing pet peeve of mine alone…. But there were moments when the dialogue needed to hold itself back by just one line or so. If Woodrugh hadn’t said anything at all once after he revs his motorcycle up past 100 and then stops, it would have been a much better moment. Or if he had just said “fuck,” and that’s all. Instead, when he addresses himself, calls himself a motherfucker and so on, it’s too much. We know what the character is thinking/feeling through his actions. We don’t need his dialogue here and I think it cheapens the scene. There were a few other instances of the same- where if the character had just held back the last line he or he said, it would have made the scene more powerful. I get the reasoning behind this- I’ve been guilty of it myself: sometimes it’s hard to trust the readers and viewers. It’s hard to not make that extra push to ensure that the reader understands what you were going for in that scene. I think Pizzolatto did a great job of holding back in the first True Detective, but that might be because he trusted those actors more to deliver without excess dialogue. I hope that Pizzolatto lets himself trust the audience more in the rest of season 2.
KC: Totally with SP and Dave. Josh, you have me wondering now: Semyon made a reference to trying to have kids and doing in-vitro. Impotence is a huge thing with crime bosses in noir. Whether it’s a nod to the genre or more important, I do appreciate that.
JI: Me too. And, if you read Galveston, it's also in that minimalist, scaled back tradition. He trusted the readers. Maybe with the success of season 1, he's thinking that there's a bigger audience, and he has to appeal to more people? Just speculating, but if I knew I had an audience like this, I'd be nervous as hell about leaving too much out, frustrating the viewers that way.
EF: Unfortunately, I didn’t have patience with this. There was enough clunk that by the time I got to the Woodrugh scene Stephanie pointed out, I was asking aloud if anyone had read the first draft of the script. Two examples out of a number that led me up to that point:
At the foreclosure:
WOMAN WHOSE NAME I DIDN’T CATCH: Wanna be police? Find my sister.
BEZZERIDES: What’s that? She missing?
At the bar:
SEMYON: Chasing any women these days?
VELCORO: What else would I be chasing?
I get that the goals of the show aren’t really about authenticity in any sort of direct sense. But dialogue like that isn’t jarring in a valuable way, and it pulls too hard on the threads of everything else that’s just supposed to hang. I really hope it falls away as the season moves forward.
JI: I'm on board with those examples, they pulled me out of the story, especially the first one. Pizzolatto openly said that there was no writing staff for season 1, just him. So, no room where ideas get kicked around. If that's happening again, maybe it's not working this time... Or, maybe HBO gave him a staff that's fucking it up. Couldn't find info one way or the other on that one, but I think it'd be interesting to know.
DH: I’m with you on this one, too. Maybe there are some kinks being worked out? The first episode of anything usually includes too much exposition -- they have to get the plot started, establish who is who, try to make us give a shit, etc. Even Silicon Valley, which I love and has really very little in the way of plot, spent its pilot really working hard to make us understand what’s happening. Hopefully that’s one of the reasons we’re all getting a kind of clunky, over-expository vibe with the dialogue. I’m literally picturing Rust Cole making a little tin man out of a beer can as I’m typing this, so man, that first season looms pretty large.
I feel pretty much the same about the entire character of Woodrugh. Maybe he’ll turn out to be fascinating but right now I feel like the story would have felt much less leaden and striving and obviously duh without that guy glowering through it.
TJ: I almost always hate when a music video intrudes on a narrative moment, and I especially hate it if the song is entirely on the nose or expresses entirely the angst or sadness of characters we don’t know well yet. So I agree that the bar song is a TV writerly move and not a good one. The gratuitous cop circle at the end is not as much fun as a crop circle might have been but is better than the bar song, I think, in that this last moment provides a strong, compelling visual, at least.
KC: As usual, I’m a bit worried about women in the show (I can’t even get started on other types of diversity). We do have Bezzerides, but that feels like: “Oh, we have a hot lady, but she has to basically be a man because that’s feminism.” And, ok, sure, there are all kinds of people out there and her character isn’t, in and of itself, bad, but I found Robin from The Top of the Lake to be more real-feeling and less of a Look At This Risky Move, Look How We Can Write Strong Women thing. And McAdams’ character’s name is Antigone (daughter of Oedipus, and 100% destined to die--unless this is the French revival opera version in which everyone gets a happy ending (see Gluck’s 1762 opera Orphée et Eurydice)). I think Top of the Lake is going to be a point of comparison for me this season. (Was anyone else confused when the dad referred to her sister, Athena, as the goddess of love? Was that supposed to be funny? Because it sounded like they didn’t know who Athena is, and that’s really annoying in a show that is intentionally literary.)
And it’s going to be another season of Bad Dads, it looks like. Male detectives who think they are protecting their kids but are actually fucking them up because: the patriarchy. Again, not necessarily a bad trope, but I like an angle better when it’s fresh.
Oh man, I’m just remembering the movie The Salton Sea. I can definitely see a bit of that movie (from what I remember) in Velcoro’s storyline.
Here’s what’s saving the season for me right now: all of the insane literary references that you know will blow up the internet. Cleverness alone is not enough to make me love it, and it won’t be enough to carry the series, but it’s going to be enough to make me rewatch the episode.
EF: Despite the fact that I’ll be going into the next episode with cynicism, I’m interested in checking out novels, short stories, etc. that are reminiscent of what’s going on with this show. Any recommendations? Any literary references from season 1 that are worth reading before diving into watching?
JI: If you're into the Lovecraft kind of thing, then The King in Yellow is kind of cool. Not really my kind of book, but I can see why people like it. I don't think you need to read it to understand the show, but from a writing standpoint it's interesting to see how it affected Pizzolatto and the way he integrated it.
Rust Cohle also talks about some M-Theory stuff, and gets into a little bit of Nietzsche, especially the idea of eternal return.
But, really, I don't think you need to read any of it to enjoy the season, it's more an interesting insight into what Pizzolatto did (but, since we're all writers, that's probably pretty intriguing).
DH: I liked Galveston and thought it was a good, solid, literary crime novel that does some of the things he does in both seasons, especially with the flashes back/forward so you see the time-worn effects of some of the things that are going down in real time, which is interesting and a cool writer move.
They’re in LA so I’d read some old school Chandler -- The Big Sleep or the Long Goodbye. George Pelecanos writes this kind of thing really well -- most of his are set in DC, where he lives. He’s also a dude who started writing while he was doing a “real” job and didn’t quite to write full time until he was pretty well established, which is kind of a cool story for some of us nine to fivers. Also, of course, he wrote on the The Wire and is developing a new show about porn with David Simon, so, you know, quitting his real job worked out pretty well.
TJ: I second the Pelecanos recommendation. Galveston is a good read--I’d agree with that, too. My favorite California book is Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange, which has some fun with the conventions of noir. For Southern noir, I’d recommend a fun anthology of stories called Lone Star Noir.
KC: The Big Sleep, for sure. And I’d check out the comic Stumptown by Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth if you dig lady detectives and a little bit of illustration with your prose (Comix 4 Lyfe). There’s also funny little asides, like the introduction to The Simple Art of Murder (along with the title essay) which Chandler wrote in 1950 that talks a lot about the genre and general format of noir mysteries. The collection also has a story in it called “The King in Yellow.” ;) Season 1 was also very Camus, if you’re in the mood for more existentialism.