Last year, Rockstar Games released the western saga Red Dead Redemption, a flat-out videogame masterpiece by bringing to life a particular time and place in American history with extraordinary detail and telling a rich, engrossing story that challenged the mind and engaged the emotions. Hopes are high among fans and critical admirers of Rockstar’s sophisticated, decidedly adult work that their next major title will prove equal to its Red Dead triumph: L.A. Noire, a murder-mystery adventure set in late ’40s Los Angeles, a sprawling and stylish videogame iteration of the film noir and neo noir genres, typified by movies like The Big Sleep (1946) and Chinatown (1974). Of course, vintage film noir owed a debt to crime fiction by the likes of Raymond Chandler (who wrote The Big Sleep) and Dashiell Hammett. To acknowledge the literary roots of its newest offering – and to expand L.A. Noire into a larger “transmedia” entertainment franchise – Rockstar commissioned several prominent authors to pen short stories inspired by the game and stand on their own as crime genre fun. An eBook compilation from Mulholland Books, entitled L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories, will be available June 6, about three weeks after the game’s scheduled May 17 release. “The concept behind L.A. Noire was to create a crime thriller that built on the classic tradition of noir, not just in film but also evoking the great body of crime fiction that exists within the genre,” says Alex Moulle-Berteaux, Rockstar’s VP of Marketing. “Chandler, [James] Ellroy, and Hammet were as much touchstones for the atmosphere and characters of the game as anything from cinema, so there was something appealing about [the] idea of setting some of the genre’s finest contemporary writers loose within that world.”
Among the authors who’ve written original stories for the anthology: Megan Abbott (Bury Me Deep), Lawrence Block (Eight Million Ways To Die), Joe Lansdale (The Bottoms), Joyce Carol Oates (Blonde, among many), Francine Prose (Blue Angel), Duane Swierczynski (Expiration Date), Andrew Vachss (Another Life, The Weight), and Jonathan Santlofer (The Murder Notebook), who served as editor/curator for the project. In an interview with EW, Santlofer says he accepted the assignment even though he isn’t much of a videogame player. “I was really excited very simply because all I could think of is these million of gamers being introduced to these stories, written stories, and it struck me as this great synergy between these two different kinds of storytelling,” says the author and artist, who recently co-edited the crime anthology The Dark End of the Street. “I think the idea of expanding their readership to include gamers was really appealing to all the writers.”
The project came together quickly over a period of six weeks. The stories either intersect with specific aspects of L.A. Noire’s story or riff on the historical setting. Some writers– Abbott, Swierczynski, and Santlofer among them — chose to preview an hour of the game at Rockstar HQ in New York for inspiration; others did not. “I was completely knocked out by the attention to detail, the Chandler-esque script, and even the music, which is so L.A. Confidential and Chinatown — the game just got it right,” says Santlofer. (Asked if he approached L.A. Confidential author James Ellroy for an original or previously published story, Santlofer says he did not for various reasons, including timing and potential cost. “But there’s always L.A. Noire 2,” he says.)
Joyce Carol Oates’ story imagines Elizabeth Short – the famed victim of “The Black Dahlia” murder case – living in an apartment with Norma Jeane Baker, a.k.a. Marilyn Monroe. “Joyce’s story is so macabre,” says Santlofer. “When she called me with her idea, I told her: ‘If you don’t do this, I will!’ That got her to do it!” Francine Prose’s piece — “very witty,” says Santlofer — deals with a group of actors training themselves for work in film noir movies “and going a little over the top” with their education. Megan Abbott’s tale is set at a sordid Hollywood party. “It’s really drenched in perversion,” says Santlofer. “You feel you need a shower when you’re finished, but in the best possible way.” (And they say videogames are bad for your soul… )
With the project complete and L.A. Noire just a few weeks away from release, has Santlofer finally been allowed to play the game? Nope. But he wants to. “When I was first shown the game,” Stanlofer says, “one of the guys let me work the controls for a bit, and there was a moment when the electricity was going through my fingers and I was thinking about knocking him over and playing it for 16 hours.”
To give you a taste of the book, we offer an exclusive excerpt of Santlofer’s contribution. Some context: “I actually wrote two stories,” explains the writer. “I knew the most about the game, so when I wrote my first story, the Rockstar people said, ‘This is a great story, but you give away six different things! It’s a spoiler!’ I thought: I’m really a jerk. So I wrote a second story… and then went back to the first story and just took out all the spoilers. My story was inspired by the serial killer in the game. I don’t name him, but I drew from the game. I wanted to create a psychological backstory for him. It was also fun to play with the iconography and cultural elements of Los Angeles 1947. Musso and Frank’s. Hollywood Boulevard. The winds that come in through the basin. [Otherwise known as “The Santa Anas.“] I also play with the real-life gangsters that are in the game, like Mickey Cohen and Johnny Stompanato.” This probably needn’t be said, given the hard-boiled nature of the genre, but: Reader Discretion Is Advised. If you’re hungry for more, go to rockstar.com to read an excerpt of Megan Abbott’s story “The Girl.”
Excerpted from “What’s In a Name?” by Jonathan Santlofer
The one thing I know is how to talk to women, especially the unhappy ones, the ones who are sick to death of their husbands and their miserable lives, the ones who’ve packed their bags and left, who drink too much and wear their rayon skirts too tight and who stink of cheap perfume, just like that dame who checked in two nights ago, Mary something-or-other, who I’d pegged at forty-something, though she claimed to be thirty, gammin’ for me, acting all Fifth Avenue when she was anything but, complaining about this and that, like the world owed her a living, while I lugged her bag up three flights, doing my best Bing Crosby, nodding and smiling, I know, I know, and her showing off how she worked at the May Company department store selling dresses and how she knows everything about fashion, something called the New Look, and me saying, That’s swell, nodding and smiling till my face hurt and then, later, she’s downstairs again, bending my ear and crying on my shoulder and I’m all sympathy till some sailor comes in, twenty-one, twenty-two, and she stops talking to me just like that and starts laughing it up with the kid and next thing I know they go off arm in arm and she doesn’t so much as give me a second glance or bother to say good night, but two hours later she’s back after dumping the sailor, or more likely he dumped her, staggering on her open-toed pumps all drunk and teary and wants to talk again, and my shift’s about to end so I say, How about a cup of coffee? and she says, That’d be swell, and I say there’s an all-night diner up on Mulholland and we get into my beat-up Dodge coupe and I drive to a deserted lover’s lane, and when I pull to a stop, she asks, Where the hell are we? but I don’t say anything, just lean over to kiss her and she slaps me across the face and I think, that’s it for her. I punch her and her head hits the side window so hard I think it’s going to break the glass but the only thing that breaks is her head, blood all over my goddamn window and upholstery, and I leave her there a minute, get out of the car and come around and open her door and she slumps out, moaning, and I drag her across the field by her arms and she’s kicking and scratching, crying and stuttering, N-no—p-please — no, but all I’m seeing is Carole tucking bills inside her brassiere and hands coming over my face and covering my mouth and the smell of old man whiskey breath while my fingers tighten around her neck.