It was last summer when I read Lucas Crown’s piece in Los Angeles Magazine about the enigmatic life and times and writings of his friend, novelist Mercedes Lambert who died in 2003 at the age of 55.
It was last week when I went into the Border’s across from the office building where I work to get my bay-bee a little valentine, and while I was there I decided to see if any of Lambert’s books were available, which was a great idea being where I was except for the EPIC FAIL that I couldn’t remember any of the titles, nor her name, nor her unique pseudonym. All I could remember to the clerk there was that she was dead and that she wrote using a male’s first name. Michael? David? Bradley? Fuck.
I left with a fancy card and some gourmet jelly beans, but without any of Lambert/Munson’s works. Eventually and still drawing blanks except that I was pretty confident that the first name was Douglas I got around to googling and damn if she wasn’t hard to find. I tried searching the L.A. Times website but came up totally empty same with Los Angeles Magazine. Ask.com was no help and it was only when I returned to the Google and entered some variation of “noir los angeles novels by deceased female authors Douglas” in the search term box did I get a hit — and only then on the third or fourth page in!
I saw her nom de guerre: Douglas Ann Munson and slapped my knee and immediately went to Amazon and snapped up two used copies of her previously published books as well as her last, published late last year, four years after her death.
In a nutshell Lambert was a lawyer turned novelist and the author of three well-received titles: El NiÃ±o in 1990, Dogtown in 1991 and Soultown in 1996. All are based in Los Angeles, with the last two centered around a female detective named Whitney Logan. By the publication of her third she was considered one of L.A.’s top mystery writers among James Ellroy, Michael Connelly and Walter Moseley. In 1996 she quit being a lawyer and moved to Washington to finish her fourth title “Ghosttown.” A month later Viking notified her they’d rejected it. After unsuccessfully attempting to retool the book she gave up and moved to Czechoslovakia and taught English until 2001 when she discovered a lump in her breast and returned to the U.S. for treatment. She’d previously beaten breast cancer in the 1980s, but this time she was given six months to live. She exceeded that prognosis, but succumbed in December 2003. Her ashes were returned to California and scattered in the waters off Marina Del Rey.
Source: Douglas Anne Munson Wiki page.
Crown’s piece in L.A. Magazine went into a bit more detail about the tragic last year or so of her life, making her unrealized future as a writer, one cut short by disease and her own demons, all the more poignant. I can’t remember specifics but I believe there was a period where she was almost completely destitute and even homeless on the streets of L.A. for a spell.
I think I’m drawn as much to her mysteries as I am the mystery that she was.