For Media

Ken Kuhlken is all about questions. His latest obsession is latest obsession is seeking to grasp why Feodor Dostoyevski claimed beauty will save the world. When he isn’t questioning, he plays golf with his daughter, worries about what will become of him when she leaves for college (as soon as her college opens up for the class of 2024) attempts to grow and cook vegetables and pesters his cat. 

He has written and published many novels, short stories, articles, poems, and essays. Lots of honors have come his way, including a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship; Poets, Essayists and Novelist’s Ernest Hemingway Award; Private Eye Writers of America Best First Novel and Shamus Best Novel; and several San Diego and Los Angeles Book Awards. 

“Ken Kuhlken writes about characters most authors wouldn’t touch.” Raymond Carver 

“Elegant, eloquent, and elegiac, Kuhlken’s novels sing an old melody, at the same time haunting and beautiful.” Novelist Don Winslow

Keep in touch with Ken by email at: ken@kenkuhlken.net  or visit him at kenkuhlken.netBookBubGoodreadsFacebookTwitter. For film enquiries contact Judy Coppage, The Coppage Company

A Press Release for The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles

IN 1926, A USC FOOTBALL STAR INVESTIGATES A LYNCHING NEITHER POLICE NOR MAJOR MEDIA WILL ADMIT EVEN HAPPENED. 

As a young white boy, Tom Hickey had attended the mostly black Azusa Street Pentecostal church where Frank Gaines, a wise and gentle black man, often protected him from the abuses of his cruel mother. Twenty years later, while Tom is the leader of a dance orchestra, Frank is found hanging from a tree in Echo Park near Sister Aimee Semple McPherson’s Angelus Temple. 

Aside from his grief, Tom becomes furious that neither the Times nor the Examiner covered the lynching, that the only report comes from the Forum, a weekly tabloid distributed in the city’s black community.

Even Leo Weiss, Tom’s surrogate father, an LA. cop, refuses to answer his questions and warns him against crossing not only the Ku Klux Klan but also the notoriously corrupt and ruthless LAPD and newspaper publishers Hearst and Chandler, two of the most powerful men in the country. 

But Tom insists on investigating and his search for truth gains urgency when the publisher of the Forum clues him that black citizens mean to avenge the Frank Gaines lynching by an attack on a KKK meeting, which could easily prompt a race war.  

Fans of James Elroy’s LA Confidential, Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, or the film Chinatown, will find The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles especially engaging.  

First published in 2010, The Biggest Liar in Los Angeles has found new life as Book One in Ken Kuhlken’s gripping and ambitious Hickey Family series of crime novels. The story opens with Tom’s first investigation at age twenty-one and continues over ten books until his eighty-fifth year. 

Each of the novels is a riveting tale of crime, heroics, and sacrificial love. Together, the novels offer a vivid and panoramic vision of California as it transforms from a frontier to the most influential place on earth. Readers who accompany Tom and his extraordinary family on their adventures enrich their knowledge of America and the dark and bright recesses of the human heart.

“Tom Hickey is one of detective fiction’s most original and intriguing creations.”  San Francisco Chronicle​

Paper copies of the Hickey Family novels are available at any online bookstore. These new editions being released every few weeks in ebook at all major online bookstore. 

For a review copy, email clifford@hickeybooks.com

An Excerpt

THE BIGGEST LIAR IN LOS ANGELES

Chapter One

TOM HICKEY rented in a court near the intersection of Wilshire and Normandie, halfway between downtown Los Angeles and Beverly Hills. He shared the cottage with his little sister Florence. She was seventeen. Six years ago, Tom had snatched her away from their mother, Millicent Hickey, a seamstress for Universal Pictures.

He hadn’t spoken to Milly since the day he and Florence left home with nothing but his clarinet and a suitcase of clothes between them. At first he believed their mother would track them down, have him arrested or beaten by a gang of her fellow spiritualists. But all these years, she had left him alone.

He credited Leo Weiss for that blessing.

When Tom was in fourth grade, Milly rented a two-bedroom bungalow on Orange between Highland and La Brea. The owners, who lived next door, were Leo and Violet Weiss. Leo was a detective with the LAPD.

At first, Leo and Vi appreciated Milly. She kept the house spotless, and her passion for gardening transformed the yard into a wild yet orderly scene reminiscent of Eden. But soon, Vi caught Milly whipping Tom with a rope while shouting in “tongues.” Leo warned her, politely, hoping to keep Tom and Florence next door where he and Vi could observe and react.

Then Vi rescued Tom when Milly lashed him to a fence post in the back yard and left him while she ran errands. For that offense, Leo threatened jail next time. Milly moved them to Hollywood, several miles away.

Tom snatched his sister when he was sixteen, Florence eleven. A few days afterward, he reported to Leo what his mother had done to the girl. Then Leo informed Milly that although minors running from their guardians was illegal, torture was more so, and torture got rewarded by long prison terms.

Now, in 1926, Tom was a bandleader. Before he turned twenty- two, the other musicians drafted him, though most of them were twice his age.

Tonight they roamed around the vacant storefront owned by Archie the drummers uncle, trading jokes and filling the room with a smoky blue haze.

Tom hoped a high C would grab their attention. He lifted the clarinet to his lips.

Then Oz came loping in. He carried the tattered case that protected his alto sax, and a fistful of leaflets. He shoved a leaflet at each of the boys. As Tom took his, Oz said, “None of you white folks go telling me the Klan don’t be here out west.”

The leaflet was a broadside entitled the Forum.

It declared:

LYNCHING.

We who ask to live in peace; who came to this City of Angels hoping to leave the terror behind; who judge no man without cause; who take only our meager share of the promise this nation affords to those unbound by color; who wish to believe that justice will someday prevail, must now pause to weep.

On Monday, the 11th day of October, a gentleman who shall here go unnamed went out walking in Echo Park just as sunlight spilled over Angelino Heights. In the glare of dawn, a vision appeared. So terrible it was, the gentleman believed he had not risen but was in the throes of a nightmare.

A dark man hung limp from the live oak not ten yards off Park Avenue, not fifty yards from Sister Aimee Semple McPherson’s majestic temple.

Before this heinous act, the “Invisible Empire,” resurrected by Mister D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” would have us believe that in our locale they limit their hooded activities to preserving the Good Book’s values by smashing the furniture and windows of speakeasies, flogging the occasional adulterer, marching to protest the election of our first Negro assemblyman, and rallying voters to elect candidates opposed to unfettered growth. Now, with one act, despicable in both substance and symbolism, they have declared war against peace and decency.

The test of a community lies not in the occurrence of sinister deeds. Evil will always live among us. No, the test of our mettle lies in our reaction to manifestations of evil. In the case of this deed, more vicious than simple murder because it targets the spirit of a people, we who seek truth, peace and justice must mourn to our depths more than the loss of an innocent. The implications of the lynching go so deep, they mock the very concept of justice. When public servants attempt to obliterate the truth, they shatter our dreams of a world that could be.

Members of the Los Angeles Police Department carried off the body in such haste, only the one early-rising gentleman witnessed the shameful deed. Let the reader judge: has the briefest account of this heinous crime appeared in the Times, the Herald, or the Examiner?

To our knowledge, no publication but the Forum has risked offending the powerful by reporting the murder of Franklin Gaines.

The floor beneath Tom rose and fell, as if another earthquake had struck, and worse than any earthquake he had known. He back-stepped and leaned against the brick wall. “Frank Gaines,” he muttered.

Some potential Q&A 

What makes you different from other authors?  I think most successful authors devote their efforts to making their stories page turners, I spend more effort trying to make mine thoughtful and true to the vision of the world I see. 

Who are some of your favorite novelists and why?  Dostoyevski, because I feel he was particularly inspired and also could tell a gripping story while engaging our intellect. Jane Austen, because she has helped me both understand women and recognize why I never quite will. 

Who is your ideal target reader?  I suppose lots of my taste in reading came as an English major in college, so I hope to reach as many English majors or people who would have majored in literature if they hadn’t worried about making a living. And librarians. I simply love librarians.

Who, more than anyone, inspired you to write. My grandma who told me a thousand stories while I watched her paint landscapes. She was my art-angel. 

What is the most important thing that you have learned in your writing experience, so far? I’ve learned plenty, much of it available in a book of mine called Writing and the Spirit.

• What would you say is your most interesting writing, publishing, editing or illustrating quirk? I seem to be incapable of writing to fit formulas. When I have tried to, the words just take off in their own direction.

• As a writer, you are probably an avid reader. So do you have any advice for readers? For readers, my advice is to avoid buying books just because they’re best sellers. A best seller is merely something a publisher decided to invest in, and publishers aren’t always the best judges of quality. You can find better books through recommendations from readers whose tastes are similar to yours, or through a web site like Goodreads or BookBub although you need to beware of authors pushing their own books or their friends. Try to locate fellow readers with no profit motive for their recommendations.

• What saying or mantra do you live by?“ Number one is patience, number two is patience, number three is patience.” I borrowed that from my Tae Kwon Do teacher Master Jeong. Not that I am naturally patient, but I have certainly learned the advantage of being so.