From our house at the 700 foot level of a hillside on the Palos Verdes Peninsula my wife and I feel like the hawk that considers our lot a small part of its territory. We have a birds-eye view of Los Angeles County as it spreads out below us. Fortunately, we purchased the house in 1971, before the rest of the world (including Donald Trump who owns a golf course here) discovered Palos Verdes.
The flatland of the L.A. basin starts at Santa Monica Bay on the left, and an unending ground cover of streets and houses extends across our field of vision to the right, or east, as far as the haze and smog will let us see. The basin stops abruptly to the north, as the Santa Monica Mountains, Hollywood Hills (with its famous sign) and San Gabriel Mountains take over, bringing snow to 10,000 foot Mt. Baldy in winter. If we crane our necks to the right, we can see past Mt. Baldy to the slopes of Mt. San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California at 11,500 feet.
My first look at L.A. was an exciting one. I flew in on a DC-7 from Buffalo, New York in September 1957, an exchange student at UCLA, having played checkers with a pretty flight attendant, and saw my first palm trees and smelled my first smog. I grew up in a cold climate, and experiencing a warm winter was enough reason for me to decide to live here.
After graduating from the University of Michigan I flew into L.A. again, this time on a jet plane, and saw the vastness of Los Angeles once more. But now I was on my own, not within the sheltering embrace of a university. Seeing the sea of humanity below, it’s no wonder I felt intimidated and depressed, wondering what I was doing here and whether I would sink and disappear forever.
I didn’t disappear. I worked in the computer industry and found my wife through a 1964 version of a computer match. The smog (as we can verify from our aerie) is greatly improved. The weather is sunny most of the time and the basin looks peaceful. Although we hear an occasional siren, we can’t see the bad stuff that goes on. But like any large metropolitan area, L.A. has lots of criminals. People who rob and thieve, run scams, create cults—and commit murder.
Eight years ago I became a volunteer listener for a telephone crisis hotline. Our callers run the gamut from young to old, rich to poor (with a bias toward poor), male to female (with some undecided), but they all have problems—psychological, medical, financial. Some of these problems are suitable for a mystery novel. When I decided to base a novel in L.A., a hotline seemed like a good setting for it. That’s how Hotline to Murder was born.
Hotline takes place in Bonita Beach. I made up the name because I didn’t want anybody looking for the headquarters of a real hotline. We keep the location confidential because our callers have come on to listeners and threatened them. They are not to be trusted. The other L.A. locations in the book are real.
In the story the security surrounding the headquarters of the hotline is broken and a teenage listener is murdered. Two other listeners team up to find the killer because they talk to possible suspects, something the police can’t do. In some cases they meet them face to face, which is much scarier than speaking to them through the safety of a phone line.
An older book of mine, Aces and Knaves, (available on Amazon Kindle) is set in Los Angeles and deals with dot-com billionaires and gambling (legal and illegal) in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Los Angeles is a fascinating place. The number of L.A. stories that can be told is limited only by the imagination of the story tellers.