L.A. Noir is part story of the early 20th century LAPD, part biography of two men situated on opposite ends of the law: William Parker and Mikey Cohen, the Police chief and the gangster. It is also the story of the struggle for the control of Los Angeles itself, presenting the City of Angels at the dawn of the 20th Century as a veritable cesspool of corruption enabled by an enfeebled police department which haplessly fell under various corrupting influences of whatever powers happened to be controlling the city. The outcome of this struggle for law and order in America's most glamorous city was by no means certain; what was certain was that Los Angeles was too small for both Parker and Cohen. Sooner or latter, something, someone would have to give. The result of Parker's battle for the soul of L.A. changed American policing and politics, culminating in the Watts riots.
Noir tells a big story, populated with memorable characters and memorable portrayals of the early 20th century Los Angeles. But it is not drama, despite what the author seems to claim in the prologue:
“For three decades, from the Great Depression to the Watts riots, Parker and Cohen — the policeman and the gangster — would engage in a struggle for power, first as lieutenants to older, more powerful men, then directly with each other, and finally with their own instincts and desires. . . . ”
Neither Parker nor Cohen actually came into personal conflict in a dramatic fashion. Rather, they represent organizations, patterns of thought and behavior that are in perceptual conflict. Both men, then, are symbolic of larger forces and processes. These processes are profound in their scope and go to the very heart of the history of California itself, a land of migrants seeking to escape the exhausted metropolitan centers like New York and Chicago.