Best noir writer you don't know

MunsonDouglas Anne Munson, author of an L.A. noir trilogy that opened with the admired Dogtown, has champions in Michael Connelly, Carolyn See, John Rechy and Jonathan Kellerman. Also in Denise Hamilton, the editor of L.A. Noir and LA Observed contributor. Yet Munson's mysterious life story got murkier the closer he looked, wrote Scott Timberg in a profile in the Times' Calendar section:

Despite the name, she wasn't a man.

And despite her exotic-sounding pen name -- Mercedes Lambert -- she was a white Southerner who'd had a hard-knocks childhood.

Despite the author bio on the "Dogtown" book jacket, she didn't live in Montebello and didn't have two kids.

And despite her early success that included rave reviews and anchoring a sizable magazine article on L.A.'s then-nascent noir revival, she never quite arrived as a writer.

In fact, after some early success, she spiraled downward when the conclusion to her trilogy was rejected by her publisher. Health problems, severe depression, a stint of homelessness in Santa Monica, an escape to Prague and death by cancer in 2003 followed.

Munson had been a criminal defense lawyer here before turning to writing. Her last novel Ghosttown is being published for the first time next week by Five Star, a small press in Maine. Dogtown and Soultown, the first books in the trilogy built around detective Whitney Logan, have been out of print but will be reissued next spring by Stark House. "She wrote mystery novels," said Connelly, who called Munson's El Niņo a major influence. "But she was probably the biggest mystery of all." He wrote the introduction for Ghosttown.


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