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The Collected Stories
Edited by Rockstar Games
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Format:ebook (Digital original) $0.99 $0.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 6, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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1940s Hollywood, murder, deception and mystery take center stage as readers reintroduce themselves to characters seen in L.A. Noire. Explore the lives of actresses desperate for the Hollywood spotlight; heroes turned defeated men; and classic Noir villains. Readers will come across not only familiar faces, but familiar cases from the game that take on a new spin to tell the tales of emotionally torn protagonists, depraved schemers and their ill-fated victims.
With original short fiction by Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, Joe Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Jonathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski and Andrew Vachss, L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories breathes new life into a time-honored American tradition, in an exciting anthology that will appeal to fans of suspense and gamers everywhere.
On the infrequent occasions that I make it out to L.A., to work on the cop show I have a hand in, I always make time to have dinner at Musso & Frank. They've been serving the same menu since 1919, the same steaks and chops, the same sauerbraten and lobster thermidor. The seats at the counter in front of the grill have the same buffed leather upholstery, and if you lean in close you can see rings on the bar left behind from Raymond Chandler's shot glass.
They say he wrote parts of The Big Sleep here, maybe all of it. They say Jim Thompson, author of The Killer Inside Me, often drank himself into a stupor here and had to be helped home. Charles Bukowski, too, and F. Scott Fitzgerald—writers of all stripes used to pickle themselves here. But because of Chandler and Thompson, and because of the look and feel of the place (it could be a set from Chinatown; it was, in fact, a set in Ocean's Eleven), it's got a special spot in the hearts of writers and readers of crime fiction. And not just crime fiction—the particular sort of crime fiction we call noir.
You might wonder why a crime writer living in New York would have to fly across the continent to Los Angeles to have a proper noir experience. It's the same reason that the folks at Team Bondi and Rockstar Games decided to recreate L.A. inside a computer to give gamers the ultimate noir (or noire, if you prefer) environment to explore. If you want a proper Western experience, you go to Tombstone, Arizona; for romance, you go to Venice or Rome. For noir, you go to L.A. Ironic, I suppose, given how strongly California is associated with brightness and sunshine; even more ironic given how synonymous Hollywood is with happy endings (if you say that a movie has a "Hollywood ending," you mean pretty much the opposite of what goes on in a film noir). But facts are facts, and for generations of readers and writers and filmmakers, L.A. is noir central.
I don't think this is in spite of Hollywood's sunny associations—I think it's because of them. Nowhere on earth do you get to witness more clearly the collision between fantasy and reality than in L.A., the clash between the dreams being spun for the cameras at twenty-four frames per second or enjoyed by stars in the mansions of the Hollywood Hills and the dire existence being lived by the other 99.9 percent of the population, the one doomed never to make it to the Technicolor side of the rainbow.
Musso & Frank is located right on Hollywood Boulevard, a street that is literally paved with stars—you don't get more dreamlike than that. But the last time I walked that stretch of pavement after the sun went down, I saw a young man in handcuffs being jammed into the back of a police car; then I was approached by another man walking along with his hands in his coat pockets muttering hopefully, "Medical marijuana… Medical marijuana…" Darkness and light. Pawnshops and drug clinics and tranny hookers plying their trade on the same boulevards on which chauffeur-driven Bentleys and Maybachs ferry studio executives working out hundred-million-dollar deals in the backseat. Would-be screenwriters and actors and makeup artists living on Craigslist gigs and ramen look up each night and see the Hollywood sign staring down at them from the mountains—so bright and clean and hopeful and impossibly far away. Yes, every major city has slums, has desperate people living desperate lives—but only in L.A. do the slums come with a view of Shangri-la.
L.A. Noire: the stories.
When Rockstar Games set out to create a classic noir experience, they realized that there were two equally important elements that had to be present: the look and feel, which had to immediately conjure up the unforgettable sights and sounds of the great noir films of the 1940s and '50s (and their neo-noir cousins from the 1970s and beyond), and the storytelling. Focus only on the sights and sounds and you have an empty shell, a pastiche. Anyone can put stick figures in trench coats and fedoras, slap some saxophones on the sound track, and call it noir. What makes genuine noir is not just the atmosphere but the stories—heartrending tales about people facing terrible situations and, all too often, not surviving.
And what better lens through which to view these stories than the eyes of a cop? The characters involved in any particular crime get to see only the events of that one story—a cop gets to see them all. So L.A. Noire puts you into the shoes of Cole Phelps, an ex-marine now working for the LAPD, a more or less clean cop in a more or less clean department with the good or bad fortune (you decide) of having worked his way up to the homicide desk during one of the most notorious years in LAPD history: 1947. That was the year that opened with the discovery in a city park of the mutilated body of Elizabeth Short, nicknamed the Black Dahlia by the newspapers; and as the year wound on, other women, one after another, were found murdered in gruesome and sadistic fashion—this one strangled with a stocking, that one beaten to death with a claw hammer, yet another found with obscenities scrawled on her corpse in lipstick. Arrests were made in some cases, but the Dahlia's killer was never caught. And the problem is… who knows how many of the other murders the killer was responsible for? In some cases, it's possible that not only did the guilty party not go to jail, an innocent man went in his place.
That's the thoroughly noir real-world backdrop against which the stories of L.A. Noire unfold, and although Cole isn't assigned the Dahlia case itself, many of the cases Cole does investigate are ripped straight from the headlines of the day. You'll get to examine that lipstick-smeared corpse yourself—better have a strong stomach. And lest you think that catching a latter-day Jack the Ripper is all you have to do to earn your pay, rest assured that Cole Phelps's workday is a long and full one. There are arsons and explosions to look into, vice cases involving fixed boxing matches and reefer peddling (Medical marijuana… Medical marijuana…), hit-and-run cases that hide sordid marital infidelities… oh, and some cases that are tied directly to the film business, though the films involved might not be the sort you'd find playing at your local theater.
Depends on your neighborhood, I guess.
These, then, are the stories in the game, and a satisfyingly sordid lot they are. But the Rockstar crew wanted to go even further on the storytelling front, wanted to give players an extra treat while also tipping their hats to the literary element that has always been central to the world of noir. What they did was invite some of the most acclaimed living practitioners of the noir storytelling art—literary figures such as Joyce Carol Oates and Francine Prose, giants of the crime-writing world such as Lawrence Block and Andrew Vachss, award winners and stylistic innovators and cross-genre geniuses such as Joe Lansdale and Megan Abbott, Jonathan Santlofer and Duane Swierczynski—to each write a new short story inspired by the world of L.A. Noire. Some of the stories use particular cases from the game as a jumping-off point, others simply share the game's setting and era and spirit—but they all give you a view of humanity in extremis, of the beaten-down and those who savagely dole out the beatings, and of the thin blue line that tries, not always successfully and not always in ways that are strictly legal, to stand between the two.
It is perhaps worth noting that, to the best of my knowledge, not a single one of these authors lives in L.A. The closest is probably Joe Lansdale, who lives in Texas; otherwise it's a bunch of New Yorkers, a Philly boy, a Jersey girl.
Doesn't matter. L.A. is where you come to drink at the weathered bar with Chandler's ghost—to luxuriate in the shadows, to walk the mean streets, to remember, if you're a noir writer, where it is you came from. In its way, what Rockstar has done is invite eight of the finest writers in the business to a dinner at Musso & Frank—and what a feast it is.
So: tuck in. Napkin in the shirt collar, knife and fork at the ready—you're going to be served a rich and subtle and darkly delicious meal, savory in its unsavoriness. Just keep your wits about you. It takes a while to finish an eight-course meal, and it's getting dark out there. By the time you step out onto Hollywood Boulevard again, there could be some dangerous souls sharing the street with you. And, yes, those are police sirens you hear in the distance—but if there's one thing L.A. Noire teaches us, it's that the police don't always make it to the scene in time.
The house was famous. A Mayan fortress made of ferroconcrete blocks stacked like teeth. A powerful man lived there. June had heard of it long before this, her first introduction.
The talent agent who brought June called it the Shark House.
It was in Los Feliz and you could drive by a hundred times and miss it. But once you saw it, you couldn't turn away. There were no windows. The tiny lawn sloped up, feathered with ivy that looked red in the strange light. It was a house that seemed to hold things inside. You felt you might be walking into a maw. You were.
"Huston will be here," the agent said. "Key Largo. The part's perfect for you."
"Claire Trevor's got it sewn up between her thighs," June said softly, looking up at the house from the open door of the agent's middling car. "Ten years, every bed I land in is still warm from her."
"She's not married to Guy," the agent pointed out.
"You can see how far that's got me," June said.
The agent was very young, with a scruff of dandelion hair, a splashy tie, and shiny cheeks. She almost wanted to take a bite out of him. Then spit him out.
There were always young men like this, and for a decade or more, they'd look at the line of June's bust and her slanting smile and figure maybe they could sell her. But she looked in the mirror and saw everything.
Two years ago, she'd married Guy, who ran sports book on the West Side for Mickey Cohen and liked to trot her up and down the Strip, his "actress wife."
Now, the talent agents saw different kinds of possibilities in June, different ways to lay odds. They knew producers cast actresses for all kinds of reasons, including big vigs they needed to pay off, big secrets they needed to hide. Sure, her carnival days might be over, but she may still have sheen left, they told her.
But June had long given up on sheen. She wanted a job.
"What does it matter?" her friend Gladys asked. "You married the honeypot. Just slip on your silver mink, prop your feet up, and listen to Dick Haymes all day."
Sometimes she considered it.
But June held on to a few small things from when she first came to the City of Dreams. A button from her baby brother's shoe, her first pair of silk stockings, and a deeply felt longing to show someone something sometime. Something inside her that no one else had ever seen. All these years of lifted skirts and pearl-mouthed hangovers hadn't scrubbed that yearning away. It was her favorite part of herself and she would not let it go.
When June was young, before her father left the first time, before he became a forgotten man and ended up in Chicago and married a hotelier's daughter, a bigamist in three states, by her mother's count, he would pull her on his lap and read her stories from a big book with crumbling foiled edges she liked to touch while he read.
She would lie against his humming chest and watch the gold dust gather on her fingertips.
The story she always remembered, her favorite, was the one about the miller who had fallen on hard times. One day, the devil approached him in the woods and promised the miller all the riches in the world in return for what stood behind his mill. The miller, knowing all that lay behind the mill was a gnarled old apple tree, eagerly agreed. What he did not realize was that his beloved daughter, at that moment, was standing behind the mill, sweeping the yard. And now she was the devil's own.
It was a long story, with many turns, and June couldn't remember all of it, but she did remember this: the devil tries to take the daughter but is unable to because she is pure. He tells the miller that he must chop off her hands. The miller cries and cries and his daughter hears him. The daughter, who loved her father, held out her hands.
"Dear father," she said, "do with me what you will."
At this point, June's father always lifted his hand and dropped it on June's tiny wrists and laughed. They both laughed, maybe.
"That's a terrible story," her mother would say, from the laundry tub.
"It is," her father would reply. "But she loves it."
As they walked up the pathway to the house, the fleshy succulents tingling around them, the air itself changed, became wet and thick and scented. The leaves curled against June's face, cradling her with long fingers.
Slipping her mink from her shoulders, she felt, for the first time in a long while—years, maybe—nervous, though she couldn't say why.
The agent was talking behind her.
"I know Georgie Tusk will be here. He's running B unit over at Warner Brothers and he's got big eyes right now."
But June had met Tusk a dozen times at three different studios, and no soap. Women she knew, starlets, made jokes about him, how he was married to that beautiful actress who was big the decade before and all he cared about was poking his tusk in her and they couldn't get any flash from him.
Suddenly, there were voices buzzing in front of them and another couple was there, suspended at the front of the house. A man in a pale seersucker suit and a big-eyed girl with tight curls and a coral gash for a mouth. Her face was the studio mask but behind it was something else, maybe something softer. You could never tell, though. And June had long ago stopped trying.
The stacked blocks of the house were white under the moon. Everything looked wet, gleaming, like teeth. Everything was like teeth.
"It's a cave," the girl whispered.
"A lair," the seersucker man said.
"A tomb," the agent joked, but his voice went high.
When June first hitched to Hollywood, age fifteen, a man picked her up outside of San Francisco. He drove her to a place called the Moaning Cavern, near Vallecito. He told her that, inside, all the mysteries of life would be revealed to her.
They walked a long way until they reached a space so narrow they called it Pancake Squeeze, and he did in fact show her what life was all about.
He also gave her bus fare for the remainder of her trip. On the way out, a stalactite pierced his hat, and June was glad.
Since then, and a thousand thens thereafter—"Let me show you my private office," "Won't you come to my wine cellar, baby girl?" and "I have a little house out in Malibu with a peach of a view"—June had stopped feeling scared of men taking her to dark places. In the end, the dark places were all the same, and you'd better get a mink coat out of it or you were a fool.
The coral-mouthed girl next to her did not have a mink, but she had a leopard swing coat, which she dragged along the ground.
"I heard about something that happened here," she said. "I know a girl."
June had heard things, too. About the house's owner, everyone had. An elegant widow's peak and a European way. A collector, an importer, a private dealer in things, objects. No one knew. She had seen him once at the Mermaid Room, where girls swam in tanks, their twitching smiles painted red, fingertips tapping on the glass. Eyes hidden behind a green-tinted pince-nez, he did not look up at the girls but seemed always to be whispering in the ear of his date, a tanned woman with a square face and large slanted eyes, a thicket of peacock feathers spiked through her brown hair.
June had heard he was a man acquainted with artists and occultists and intellectuals and all the other people who made June feel, despite her I. Magnin suits and cool voice, like a Woolworth's counter girl who turned tricks every other Saturday night.
"What's the big deal? Another rich stiff with a taste for Tinseltown trim," the agent said.
The seersucker man, whose hair was white-blond, and his eyelashes, too, blinked three times but said nothing.
The entrance was hidden under the slab projecting from the center of the house, its heavy tongue. There, on the copper gate, the chevron pattern repeated itself, slashing wrought arrows pointing up, into the house's dark interior.
The seersucker man pushed it open and they crept up stone steps to a front door with a flickering glass lamp at the top, a Cyclops eye.
They turned, and turned again, and June felt something brushing her ankle, and it was the girl behind her, the feathers on her gown quivering.
Finally, they found the door, which opened with a shuuusshh.
The girl gasped.
"Oh," the girl said, as they found themselves in an outdoor courtyard lined with canted columns, wall torches pluming flames, light blazing hysterically from the rooms that faced it.
Through half-open doors, June could see women with severe hair and pendulous earrings, their arms laced high with Mexican bracelets. Men with pencil mustaches and the slick look of morphine and Chinatown yen-shee, their cuff links dropping to the floor, their heads loose on their necks. Some were dancing, hips pressed close, and others were doing other things, straps slipping from shoulders, bracelets clacking to the tiled floor.
Everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time.
Then June saw, under a darkening banana tree in the center court, two women, ruby-haired both, their bodies lit, swarming each other, their silver-toned faces notched against each other. They were famous, both of them, famous like no one ever would be again, June thought, and to see their bodies swirling into each other, their mouths slipping open, wetly, was unbearably exciting, even to June.
"Let's see the sights," the seersucker man said, gesturing inside one of the rooms.
But suddenly the coral-mouthed girl didn't want to, and June's agent had a darting look and said he'd spotted George Tusk and had a sweet deal he wanted to seal over a pretty girl's bare back.
The seersucker man drifted away and it was only June and the girl.
A dark-haired man in glasses came up to them. He had in his hand a tall green bottle and a pair of balloon goblets crooked in his finger.
"Please?" he said, lifting the bottle.
"Are you the owner?" June asked.
The man grinned wetly, his face a white streak under a torch flame.
Slowly, he set the glasses on a rosewood table and poured the green liquid from the bottle.
"Are you him?" June asked again, the alcohol—whatever it was—hitting her the second it hit her tongue, tingling through her mouth like cocaine.
"Oh," the girl said, touching her greening lips. "It's very fine."
The man starting talking to them about the Mayans.
"They'd fasten a long cord around the body of each victim. After the smoke stopped rising from the altar, that meant it was time."
June was not listening because he did not look important. He had rolled up his shirtsleeves and she saw a tattoo of a woman with a long webbed tail on his forearm.
"They'd throw them into the pit," he was saying. "The tribe would watch from the brink and then pray without stopping for hours. After, they'd bring up the bodies and bury them in a grove."
June couldn't really hear, her head starting to feel echoey and strange.
The man was suddenly gone and June couldn't remember him leaving.
What had they drunk? She felt her dress slipping from her shoulders, her own mouth seeming to go wider, spreading across her face.
She felt the girl's hands on her, and they were walking on the faintest of feet, their tiny shoes tapping on the courtyard.
They stood under an arching tree hung thickly with long soft blooms like red bells. The bells tickled June's hair and made her skin rise up.
"I've been here before," the girl said, eyes saucering. "Have you?"
"No," June said, brushing the blooms from her face, the musked scent from her nose. "I don't think so. Do you know the owner?"
"I've been here before," the girl whispered. "I know where that hallway goes. I was brought here. I had something done to me here."
June didn't say anything, but the way the girl was tingling her arms around her bare shoulders made her skin quill.
It was later, maybe much later, and June was shaking off the drink, which had fallen on her like silk, flooding her mouth and covering her eyes.
- On Sale
- Jun 6, 2011
- Page Count
- 192 pages
- Mulholland Books