Ben Crandel Returns

After nearly 40 years since it was first published, Murray Sinclair's Tough Luck L.A. is being reissued by and Open Road, and we are excited to announce that all three titles in the Ben Crandel mystery series, including Only in L.A. and Goodbye L.A., are now available as ebooks for the first time. 

Ben Crandel Series

Buy Here: Tough Luck L.A. Only In L.A. Goodbye L.A.

Sinclair's L.A.-based novels features former screenwriter Ben Crandel as he moves to the west coast and navigates his way through the gritty inner workings of Hollywood in the late 80's. The first in the series, Tough Luck L.A., follows Crandel as he becomes a prime suspect in the gruesome murder of a friend. In Only in L.A. andGoodbye L.A., Crandel teams up with police captain George Steifer in order to solve a kidnapping and investigate a missing reporter.

A California-native himself, Murray Sinclair wrote an introduction to his series and the L.A. landmarks that are featured in his books. Read Sinclair's intro below, and be sure to check out the series here.


L.A.’s a Character by Murray Sinclair

There appears to be a trend regarding the resurrection of underappreciated or forgotten authors who have recently been able to find their way back into print thanks to the advent of e-commerce. I am another one of Los Angeles’ own who published three hard-boiled mystery novels in the 1980’s, Tough Luck L.A., Only in L.A., Goodbye L.A.,beginning with mass market paperbacks and eventually landing with Black Lizard Books, a wonderful niche noir publisher in Berkeley, California, helmed by the novelist Barry Gifford. My protagonist Ben Crandel is a writer who has a tendency to hang out with the wrong people, thereby landing him in trouble on a semi-regular basis. 

The Los Angeles Times, through Charles Champlin, the late L.A. Times arts editor, film critic and columnist, championed my cause in 1988: “In the third and latest in the series, Goodbye L.A., Crandel, doing better as a writer, gets involved with his 15-year-old ward’s rock group, Claustrophobic, with the disappearance of a woman reporter and with some neo-Nazis using rock as a front. While accurate accounts of the gritty underside of Los Angeles are nothing new, Sinclair looks with a calm eye and doesn’t force his effects. He’s a welcome new voice.” 

Alas, shortly thereafter, Black Lizard Books was acquired by the Vintage Books division of Random House, who allowed my books to go out of print. My writing career fell into a limbo state which froze in time when I started practicing law 30 years ago. 

Flash forward 30 years later when I was ready to think about my legacy. Fortunately, Otto Penzler, the publisher of The Mysterious Press, was receptive to the idea. My books are being exhumed by The Mysterious Press on July 30, 2019, at which time all three will be reissued as e-books, and the waters will be tested by reprinting one or more of them. 

Thirty years is a long time. My biggest dilemma is whether I should use my original dust jacket photos or new ones which might be a little sobering to my peers. 

There are other issues: there’s only one reference in all of the books to a cell phone, a primitive big thing known as a car phone in the 80’s. As such, the interactions among characters may seem eccentric. They use land lines and pay phones.

Also, many of the featured L.A. locations don’t exist anymore:

  • They straightened out Dead Man’s curve in Westwood, “that long curve that overlooks UCLA and Westwood Village.”

  • Greenblatt’s Deli is still there at the corner of Laurel and Sunset, but they don’t shame their patrons by displaying their bounced checks in the window anymore.

  • There’s an “In ‘N’ Out” across the street from Hollywood High now; the adult motels and massage parlors have moved uptown.

  • The famous Schwab’s Drugstore, featured in “Sunset Boulevard,” that had a great coffee shop and counter where stars and star-struck alike gathered on a daily basis, was mowed down for a hideous mini-mall right across the street from where the bank was built on the same land where the Garden of Allah once stood (and which is now another mall).

  • The Punk scene at the Starwood nightclub (and the Starwood itself), at Crescent Heights and Santa Monica Boulevard, where the marquee featured such legendary real and imagined groups as FEAR, X, CLAUSTROPHOBIC and THE SCAPEGOATS, is gone.

  • There’s no longer room for the “derelicts, winos, and complacent poor” in gentrified Venice Beach, as I wrote in 1978, when Tony Bill was the only big-time producer who had an office in Venice.

  • And how about Duke’s at the Tropicana, one of the greatest low brow coffee shops there ever was – home of the mushroom-onion melt, and much more, including the fact that the Tropicana motel had once been owned by the greatest Dodger, Sandy Koufax? Gone.

  • Or what about that humongous mansion on Sunset Boulevard, between Beverly Hills and the Sunset Strip, bought for $3 million (big money in the 70’s) by a Saudi Arabian sheik who had the virginal white plaster maidens gracing the front repainted in flesh tones with ornamental pubic hair? The tour buses cruised the boulevard from all parts of town just to see it. Gone. 

No more fun.

L.A. is now more refined, restrained and buttoned-up. Yes, you can still get a greasy double chili cheese burger at Tommy’s or a chili dog at Pink’s, and the barley bean soup, pastrami, dill pickles and sauerkraut at Canter’s Delicatessen on Fairfax haven’t changed in 60 years, but now you can’t just pull into the parking lot and get it at any time of the day or night. Now, you’ll join the crowd to wait in line, and the bill won’t be dirt cheap either.

But L.A. still has mystery. I can’t say it always will, but it’s here now and it will be here for a while at least. 

Beverly Hills still has no cemeteries and still has a City Hall and jail that look like they’re a part of one of the old California Spanish missions. There are still Laurel Canyon lean-to’s like the one that Ben Crandel lived in. Parts of residential areas like Los Feliz, Hancock Park and Bel-Air still have a certain awe-inspiring presence, and there are still some funky bungalows and flea-bit apartment buildings in Hollywood and elsewhere in the hills and valleys where ill-conceived deeds are hatched or perpetrated.

Still, you’ve got to be dead if you don’t get goose bumps when you drive by the main gate at Paramount. And what about the Hollywood Wax Museum and the La Brea Tar Pits? If you can’t think of a way to start a story, or the background for a story, in either of these places, there’s gotta be something wrong with you! Take a chance and read the books. It might be the medicine you need.

Glad to be back!

Murray Sinclair, then vs now: 


Tags: Murray Sinclair

Visit The Mysterious Bookshop, the oldest mystery bookstore in the country.