Southern California Mysteries

Volume 40, No. 1, Spring 2024

SoCal Mysteries

Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.



  • Vintage Hollywood Crime by Aubrey Ney Hamilton


  • Why I Love Writing About L.A. by Anne Louise Bannon
  • The Mysteries of True Crime by James T. Bartlett
  • California, the Origins of Reckoning, and the Ty Dawson Series by Baron Birtcher
  • The Lighter Side of SoCal Mysteries by Sally Carpenter
  • Where Rick Cahill Lives by Matt Coyle
  • Technology, AI and Murder Collide in L.A. by Art Chester
  • A Mystery in More Ways than One: A Fascination with Southern California by Elizabeth Crowens
  • Los Angeles Ninja Lily Wong by Tori Eldridge
  • San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter—Come for the History, Stay for the Mystery by Sara Driscoll
  • California in Black and White by Terence Faherty
  • A Different Perspective on Southern California by Earlene Fowler
  • Los Angeles: City of Dreams by Lee Goldberg
  • Kesey & Me by Chuck Greaves
  • The Monkey in Venice by Russell Hill
  • Wendy Stays Home by Wendy Hornsby
  • L.A.’s Mr. Goodbar by Georgia Jeffries
  • San Diego: Where Paradise and Crime Meet by Curtis Ippolito
  • Sand, Surf, Murder by Sybil Johnson
  • Changing Coast Changed My Life by John Lansing
  • The OC, Baby by D. P. Lyle
  • Like So Many Before Me by Larry Maness
  • Mysteries of Southern California by T. Jefferson Parker
  • You’re Right— That’s Exactly What Southern California is Like by Thomas Perry
  • Finding Your Place When You’re Writing About Place by Eugenia Parrish
  • Through a Lens Brightly by Gary Phillips
  • Beach Noir by James Preston
  • Beached by D. R. Ransdell
  • Don’t Give Up the Day Job by Clive Rosengren
  • That Screwy, Ballyhooey SoCal by Robert Rotstein
  • Los Angeles: Boundless, Disturbing, Inspiring by Elizabeth Sims
  • After-Hours by Lida Sideris
  • If At First You Don’t Succeed… by Jennifer Slee
  • Limitless Los Angeles by Patricia Smiley
  • Location, Location, Location by Elena E. Smith
  • Dwelling in the Southern Region of the Soul by David Unger
  • Hollywood, My Exuberant Muse by Halley Sutton
  • The Lair of the Bear by Duane Swierczynski
  • Making a Reader Feel the Character of a Setting by Carl Vonderau
  • What Do You Know? by Pamela Samuels Young
  • Safe, Hope, and Always by Mark Zubro


  • Mystery in Retrospect: Reviews by Jay Gertzman, Aubrey Hamilton, Lesa Holstine, Dru Ann Love, Lucinda Surber, and Kristopher Zgorski
  • Children’s Hour: Southern California Mysteries by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • The Trunk Murderess by Cathy Pickens
  • Crime Seen: Southern California Noir by Kate Derie
  • From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph

Los Angeles Ninja Lily Wong
by Tori Eldridge

I love the eyebrow raise when I tell people about Lily Wong. If the Chinese-Norwegian ethnicity doesn’t grab them—and it almost always does—the modern-day ninja from Los Angeles makes them curious to hear more.

“What kind of ninja lives in L.A.?”

To which I reply, “Lily and me!”

Not only have I lived in numerous parts of this city since 1985, I’ve been based in Los Angeles throughout my martial arts career. I actually am a ninja of Chinese, Norwegian (and Hawaiian) descent who lives in Los Angeles, so it felt entirely authentic for my protagonist to be as well.

I’ve lived in slum apartments in Hollywood during the pre-Kodak Theater and Hollywood Highland days, nestled into a hobbit home in Laurel Canyon, covered in ivy, with a hot tub where raccoons washed their meals. I spent a year in the flats of Studio City and many more on the top of Sunset Plaza, with an airplane view of Los Angeles shown in several movies like Heat. My husband and I raised our sons in the boonies of Malibu, across the Ventura County line, where deer, possum, and even a bobcat roamed through our yard. And I’m writing this essay from our current hamlet in Thousand Oaks that butts up against fifteen thousand acres of the Conejo Open Space Preserve. In addition to my own diverse community experiences, I spent two years bringing a social entrepreneurship program to schools around Greater Los Angeles including Oxnard, Glendale, East L.A., South Central, Venice, and back up the coast.

Although I was born in Hawai’i, traveled to other countries, and lived in Chicago and New York, Los Angeles is vaster and more diverse than anywhere I’ve been. I wanted to take my readers to the less-written-about locations in L.A.

The Ninja Daughter (book one) begins with an action-packed scene in the Mid-Wilshire district then takes Lily Wong to the Ladera Heights area and up to Hancock Park before settling in Lily’s super-cool apartment in Culver City on the second floor of her North Dakota Norwegian father’s authentic Hong Kong cuisine restaurant. As the mystery continues, Lily covers vast distances throughout Greater Los Angeles—over the hill into San Fernando Valley, up to Sandstone Peak above the boonies of Malibu (where I lived for twenty-three years), down to Cerritos, up to Downtown, and into the predominantly Chinese community of Arcadia where Lily was raised. She does this with a combination of a lightweight racing bike and L.A. Metro trains. When Lily needs quicker transportation, she hires a rideshare or borrows her father’s Hong Kong Inn restaurant delivery car.

My second book in the series, The Ninja’s Blade, dives deep into Los Angeles’ seedy world of youth sex trafficking. The title’s double meaning reflects Lily’s weapon of choice—a folding karambit knife—and the stretch of Long Beach Boulevard known as The Blade. While Lily travels to her homebase locations, she ventures into new communities not explored in the previous book.

And all of this without owning a car!

Lily’s avid use of biking, Metro, and rideshares puts her shoulder-to-shoulder with the communities and gives my readers a visceral sense of the vastness of L.A.

Even when she goes to Hong Kong in The Ninja Betrayed and to Shanghai and Osaka in The Ninja’s Oath, Lily is in constant contact with one or both of her parents back home. In this way, I keep my readers anchored in Los Angeles no matter where in the world my protagonist roams.

And then there’s the cultural diversity that some have called a melting pot, but Lily Wong described her city a little differently in The Ninja Daughter.

Angelenos didn’t melt together into a pot; we sparkled with individuality—sometimes dangerously, sometimes ridiculously, but always proudly—as if that quality alone defined our collective identity. We weren’t an exotic stew; we were dot art. When you stood back and took in the whole, you could see a cohesive picture. But when you stepped in close, all you saw were millions of isolated bits.

What other city combines community with isolation and cultural acceptance with strife? That advocates individuality yet embodies Southern California life? That proudly does its own thing in its own way in its own time, and which is called home by more people than ninety-five countries and in forty US states?

Clearly, Los Angeles is the perfect place for a modern-day ninja like Lily Wong.

Tori Eldridge is the bestselling author of The Ninja’s Oath and other books in the Lily Wong series, twice nominated for the Anthony Award, Lefty and Macavity Awards finalist, and winner of the 2021 Crimson Scribe for Best Book of the Year. Her shorter works appear in numerous anthologies, including the Anthony Award-winning Crime Hits Home and a Lily Wong crossover story in Joe Ledger: Unbreakable. A former actress, singer, dancer on Broadway, television, and film, Tori holds a fifth-degree black belt in To-Shin Do ninja martial arts.

Los Angeles: City of Dreams
by Lee Goldberg

Los Angeles is a city of dreams. That’s not hyperbole. It’s a fact. Dreams are the major industry, a product the city produces on a massive scale to a global audience. And not just on movie studios soundstages and backlots, either. The entire city is a studio backlot. Movies and TV are shot everywhere. The Marriott Hotel by my house has stood in for airports, hospitals, casinos, Federal buildings, and foreign capitals.

Los Angeles not only portrays itself, but it’s also been redressed as almost every city on earth, as well as cities that exist only in imagination, for countless TV shows and movies. Everywhere here has been somewhere else. And that makes all of the people like me who live here not only the city’s inhabitants, but the background actors in countless celluloid fantasies. We are real and we are fictional.

It’s a city in a state of constant personality crisis. There’s the city you see when you walk the streets and there’s the city that’s depicted in fiction. And there’s the city that’s trying to live up to the mythical vision of itself that it’s manufactured, not just in movies and TV, but in books…  from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Raymond Chandler, from Joseph Wambaugh to Michael Connelly, from Joan Didion to Steph Cha… to name just a few.

It’s a city that exists in reality and fantasy at the same time and is constantly in conflict with both. It’s that friction and tension that makes it a fascinating place to write about… and a challenge to write about with any originality.

What could I say those other authors haven’t already said… or that won’t seem tired and cliché after the tens of thousands of TV and movie cop shows that have taken place here?

So when I decided to write crime stories set here, I staked out my own territory—the Lost Hills jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

It’s an island within Los Angeles, bordered by Ventura County to the west and northwest, the City of Los Angeles to the east and northeast, and Santa Monica Bay to the south. Within those boundaries are Malibu Creek State Park (once the 20th Century Fox backlot and still a popular filming location), the Santa Monica Mountains, and the communities of Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and the exclusive, gated city of Hidden Hills.

Lost Hills has forests and beaches, ranches and urban sprawl, rich and poor. It even has a standing movie studio of sorts—the western town at the Paramount Ranch. It also has the same tension between fantasy and reality that exists in greater Los Angeles, especially in the Sheriff’s Station, where deputies are constantly having to deal with high-powered celebrities in entertainment, sports, music, and politics.

Lost Hills is truly a microcosm of Los Angeles… environmentally, geographically, culturally and socially. It’s never been written about before and has barely been depicted in TV shows and movies.

It also gives me a place to view Los Angeles from a new perspective, seeing it not so much for the city as it stands but as all the different places it pretends to be… and the roles the people who live here play in that every-changing show.

Los Angeles is a city of dreams, a place where I can actually make a living as a dreamer.

Los Angeles is me.

Lee Goldberg has been a writer since he put himself through UCLA as a newspaper stringer. Since then he has written countless mysteries, thrillers, screenplays, and tie-in novels. His best-known work includes the scripts and novelizations for Diagnosis: Murder (which he created and produced) and Monk. His latest thriller, Ashes Never Lie, features the leading characters from both his Sharpe & Walker and his Ronin & Pavone series.

Through a Lens Brightly
by Gary Phillips

When I was a teenager, Mannix (created by the talented duo of Richard Levinson and William Link) was on TV. Me and my buddies dug the show. This brash, cool PI favoring loud sport coats whose cases took him all over SoCal and beyond. He was a Korean War vet who sometimes carried a snub-nosed .38. He lived in this Casablanca-esque Spanish-Mediterranean building upstairs, and his office was downstairs at 17 Paseo Verde.

He had more than one car over those seasons. But the sweetest was his ragtop customized Dodge Dart with a car phone. More than one episode had him descending mountainous sections of Mullholland Drive fighting to control the Dart after the brake line had been cut. At times though I found it infuriating, probably due to budget concerns, there was invariably a scene of the private eye on Paramount Studios’ New York backlot street. It was supposed to be somewhere in town—when it was very apparent it wasn’t. At least to us L.A. natives.

Over time post Mannix, I piled up experiences as a community and labor organizer, and as outreach director for the Liberty Hill foundation. This work would put me in meetings with grassroots groups from the projects in Watts in South Central, to a church in East L.A.’s Boyle Heights, to a humble home in San Pedro and the harbor area. Later as the communication director for a legal aid firm, I got to know about the Muong immigrant community in Long Beach and the plight of homeless veterans found all across Southern California. The sprawl of the Southland wasn’t abstract to me, I also had a sense of its various enclaves. This knowledge would be put to use in writing my mysteries and crime fiction stories.

Raymond Chandler and John Fante captured some of Los Angeles of a certain time period. Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer had an apartment in West L.A. He wasn’t there often, not much was provided describing the neighborhood. Did Archer ever walk to the store for a carton of milk? Even his Santa Teresa seemed to be a place trapped in literary amber.

My first published novel was Violent Spring, a murder mystery reverberating out of the Rodney King riots of 1992. L.A. was center stage. In that outing and others, PI Ivan Monk interacted with all sorts of people from middle class Mid-City to the barrio in Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley, from Westchester, an area of upscale homes near the airport to the tony private clubs of Bel Air. The reader got glimpses of the modern SoCal as Monk saw and interpreted those areas.

Harkening back to Mannix, Monk drove a fully restored 1965 midnight blue Ford Fairlane as he cruised numerous avenues and boulevards. He didn’t have a car phone or initially a cellphone like what Motorola produced in those days. There’re a few scenes in the first book where Monk pulls over to use a pay phone. Pagers, aka beepers, were also still a thing. In the ‘hood there was a particular individual who labeled himself the King of Beepers. His billboard ads depicted giant beepers with young women in bikinis draped over them lovingly. There’s a Monk short story, “Boom, Boom” where he’s hired by a character inspired by the beeper king to find out who blew up one of his check cashing operations.

Too, you can’t write stories set in Southern California without talking about the different types of food found in hole-in-the wall eateries in strip malls all over the place. For example, there’s a joint called Oki’s Dog (written about in Violent Spring), where you can dare to eat a heart-stopping burrito of chili, hot dogs, and pastrami. A lunch truck you had to follow on Instagram to see where they might be on a given day to buy their tacos stuffed with Korean bulgogi. Or step into a Venice café on the boardwalk to order a charbroiled burger topped with sushi flavorings of crab, ginger, spicy tuna, ginger, nori, and wasabi mayo. While old school steak institutions Musso & Frank and Taylor’s have been described in several novels as well as seen in several movies and streaming shows.

Having gone on to write other stories of other characters set elsewhere, invariably in my works I return to Southern California. My semi-retired professional thief O’Conner maintains a façade of a middle-aged tax payer in a cookie-cutter sub-division in Hemet, in Riverside County. More recently, in One-Shot Harry, intrepid crime photographer turned amateur sleuth Harry Ingram prowled a segregated 1963 L.A. Yet even when I write stories taking place now, I have to do my research. Neighborhoods keep changing in Southern California. The writer is called upon to reflect what’s current or find themselves out of date and out of step.

Gary Phillips’ latest book is Ash Dark as Night, a sequel to One-Shot Harry starting smack dab in the middle of the ’65 Watts riots, and a 30th anniversary reissue of Violent Spring.

Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.