by Ry Cooder

City Lights Publishers, $15.95, 224 pages

Big on character, high on mood, these seven stories by musician and composer Ry Cooder are jagged depictions of a high-noir, post-war, fringe-centered Los Angeles. Famous for collaborations with traditional musicians from many countries, including the Buena Vista Social Club, Cooder populates his rambling and sometimes mysteriously plotted stories with the most colorful of characters. A city directory salesman who inherits a record collection stuffed with mafia cash. A high school dropout making donuts until the aliens arrive, and a cross-dresser who double-crosses.

Los Angeles Stories is full of characters outside the mainstream: musicians, immigrants, kool-kat types – shadowy figures acting in confidential tones, minor-key men chasing short-skirted dreams. Cooder offers stories with significant hooks – the kind of snare that grabs at your ear lobes and negotiates your imagination into what L.A. was back when the cops had it all figured out and they spoke plain and standard. For example, in “End of the Line,” set at the midpoint of the previous century, a Red Car operator buys his rail car and turns it into a diner with help from some gangland funding. These are tales – Los Angeles stories – that ramble from one point-of-view to another, where good fortune frowns on the privileged as often as it does on those who “ain’t got it fortunate.” And then it’s over.

Bryan Burch