Book cover image for Bakersfield, A Crime Novel, by Pierre Ouellette

Pierre Ouellette

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A Crime Novel

Bakersfield brings the dark side of the 1950s dust-choked town to life in this Raymond Chandleresque tale of crime and corruption. A winner from a talented writer who knows how to keep the surprises coming.

— Phillip Margolin, New York Times bestselling author
of The Third Victim

Mid-1950s, and the post-war American dream has come into full focus in Southern California. Suburbia, freeways, fast food, television and nuclear paranoia. James Stone, a career cop in LA, is along for the ride – until he becomes enmeshed in an LAPD scandal that costs him his job, his wife and his home.

He finds himself exiled to Bakersfield, California, the only place he can still find work as a cop. It’s a mean little town. Hot, flat and dry. Dominated by agribusiness and oil and little else. But it’s also brewing the flip side of the American dream, with wild honky-tonks playing the first electric music, motorcycle gangs, the Ku Klux Klan, and test pilots from nearby Edwards air base slumming on weekends.

Stone works homicide and his first case is a murdered young girl found floating face down in the Kern River. It puts him in touch with Christine Harmon, who contracts as the county’s forensic pathologist and runs a small clinic on the side. At the time, woman doctors are almost non-existent, and Stone finds Harmon’s spirited independence fascinating.

His investigation takes him deep into the local bar scene, where young players like Buck Owens and Merle Haggard are just getting their start. But then a second homicide pops up, a very sticky one for this ultra-conservative, bible-thumping community. A wealthy businessman is found murdered in his home, apparently the victim of a vicious young drifter living at a seedy motel bar on the edge of town.

With the aid of Dr. Harmon, Stone follows a trail of depravity and corruption that reaches into the highest levels of the local business and legal community. And once again he finds himself caught up in a scandal that threatens to ruin him – and this time maybe even kill him.

Pierre Ouellette

Pierre Ouellette’s first two books were the science fiction thrillers The Deus Machine and The Third Pandemic (soon to be published as an eBook by Jorvik Press). Writing as Pierre Davis, he published A Breed Apart in 2009 and Origin Unknown in 2011. Under his own name, The Forever Man came out in 2014. Starting his working life as a professional guitarist, Pierre played in numerous Portland-area rock bands and jazz ensembles, including Paul Revere and the Raiders, Jim Pepper and David Friesen. He was a co-founder of KVO, a Portland-based ad/PR agency focused on science and technology, and served as creative director for two decades before the agency was sold in 2000. Pierre now works as a video/film producer and guitarist when not writing. He lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

The following excerpt from Bakersfield: a Crime Novel
appears in Retreats from Oblivion: The Journal of NoirCon

“You ever meet Hitchcock?”
“I hear he hates cops. That right?”
“Wouldn’t know. Never asked him.”
“What about Bogart? Is he really an asshole?”
“Hard to say. He didn’t talk much.”
“I bet he drove a Cord or something […]

Read whole chapter here

Reviews on Amazon

5.0 out of 5 stars. James Ellroy meets Joseph Wambaugh (and Merle Haggard)
(Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2021)
I really enjoyed Bakersfield, which reads like a cross between James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential and Joseph Wambaugh’s The Onion Field. Ouellette’s hard-boiled crime story highlights the corruption, sleaze, and mayhem of Los Angeles and Bakersfield in the 1950s. The writing is straight-up and workmanlike, well-suited to the testosterone-driven plot and characters.
The protagonist — a former LAPD vice cop turned BPD homicide detective named James (“Jimmy”) Stone — is a Chandleresque loner who clearly knows his own limitations but is constantly forced to overcome them to survive a hostile environment. While crossing political minefields at both ends of Highway 99, he faces down street thugs in a manner that would make Philip Marlowe proud: “[T]he big guy had already made his first and probably final mistake. He’d judged Stone on the basis of size, and little else… The man squared off a couple of feet from him. In the rear, Stone saw the two companions start slowly forward. He removed them from the current equation. One thing at a time.”
Stone’s reflections on the mystery of women could also have come from Chandler: “Most women came at you from funny angles. Different moods, different faces, different affections. You never knew exactly who you were dealing with. Dr. Harmon was a lot more male in her approach and came at you straight on. If she had a hidden agenda, it was a truly masterful job of concealment.” I liked her a lot.
At the same time, Stone, a self-described Okie from L.A., is especially sensitive to the differences between city and country: “In South Park, he’d watched as Southern California gradually reshaped the Okies in its own image. Twenty years after the great exodus, they drove Fords, mowed their lawns, and went bowling every Thursday. At least they did in Los Angeles, but not out here in this land-locked oven. The blue of the Pacific was a distant dream, and the dust devils out on [the] valley floor churned up memories of failed farms, devastated crops and crushed hopes.”
As someone born and raised in Bakersfield, I appreciate the way Ouellette zeroes in on the quintessential problems of Kern County: furnace-like heat and arbitrary — and extreme — violence. His description of Oildale is spot on: “All sweat and muscle and rage. Addicted to rowdy honky-tonks, cheap booze, and wild women — or so said the lyrics.”
Ouellette correctly grounds this last point in an infamous Bakersfield bar that continues to deliver: “He drove north on Chester Avenue, a stretch of Highway 99 that sliced through town from north to south. A squat, rectangular building on the left with two sets of double doors caught his eye. The Blackboard Cafe. He’d heard of it but never seen it. The Blackboard was the one place in Bakersfield that hadn’t escaped the attention of Los Angeles. Country music players often spoke of this wild honky-tonk out on the edge of civilization where the music was taking a strange new twist, all loud and raw. […] The traditional doghouse bass and fat-bodied guitar were gone, replaced by instruments that looked [like] they’d been cut out [of] a jigsaw.”
Ouellette is referring to the solid-body Telecaster guitar (first manufactured in 1950 by Fender in Fullerton, California), which produced the raunchy blues-like sound that came to be known as The Bakersfield Sound. The emphasis on honky-tonk music is not arbitrary. A guitarist himself, Ouellette knows his local music history well. As Oildale native and Blackboard veteran Merle Haggard has noted elsewhere: “Nashville come [sic] from the church. The Bakersfield Sound come [sic] from the bar.” Back in the day, Fender guitars were renowned for their dual purpose as sturdy weapons in Blackboard bar fights.
All said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading a classic hard-boiled crime story set in a blisteringly hot valley town that, despite its explosive growth in the past half-century, still closely resembles the setting immortalized in Bakersfield.

“5.0 out of 5 stars. A NOVEL TRUE CRIME STORY
An A+ real life crime novel. Pierre Ouellette, author of the near future science fiction classic The Deus Machine, has reinvented a true story of depraved Greatest Generation city fathers gone wild.
Happy Days noir. In 1955, Bakersfield was home to every Okie in California short of the Joads, here in the middle of mid-century American nowhere. Gas stations, liquor stores, no-tell motels and great country music– the young Buck Owens played all over town – and, thanks to the “Cradle Club,” drop dead beautiful fourteen-year-old girls dropping dead all over the place.
Enter James Stone, an unassuming exiled Los Angeles police detective who stumbles – as did his counterpart in real life – into one of the most bizarre crime cabals in American crime history.
Not pretty and if you want to see how old school cops really worked, this is the book to read. Bakersfield has everything but a soundtrack and will make a great movie – LA Confidential meets Nashville and they have a baby. It should be well worth the wait.”

“5.0 out of 5 stars. An unlikely setting for a quintessential tale
in the mode of LA noir

This is a great read. Convincing voice, to start with – calm, knowing, sharp. Then there are all the period details of Bakersfield, especially about the music, which Ouellette obviously knows from his fingertips up and didn’t just Google! His musical chops knead the prose. Same savvy with the sense of the town – how to move around it, images of the walking beams pumping away like nodding horses, keeping local time and sucking up all that oil. He’s really nailed the setting, and we haven’t even started with a comment on the plot, which is chilling and propulsive. Set in the early fifties, it evokes the matter-of-factness of the gender privilege of the day. Echt LA noir, too, with a detective we’d like to see taking on another case soon. Would make a great movie, too.”

See all Amazon ratings

More author reviews

“Suspenseful tale of an LA cop exiled to Bakersfield in the 1950s, where he discovers the dangerous, degenerate underbelly of the town.”

– Todd Grimson, author of
Brand New Cherry Flavor and Stainless

“You’re going to love Bakersfield, I sure did.”

– Kent Anderson, author of Night Dogs,
a New York Times 1998 Notable Book of the Year

Local author draws on musical experience to write
gritty story of crime and corruption

Lake Oswego Review, October 11, 2018, by Barb Randall

Lake Oswego resident Pierre Ouellette can claim several job titles during his long career. He has been a professional guitarist, owner and creative director at a public relations agency, video producer and published author.

Now, he draws upon all of those experiences when writing. And on Oct. 15, he will release his sixth novel, Bakersfield.

See full article in Lake Oswego Review

TitleBakersfield: A Crime Novel
SizeTrade paperback, 6 x 9 in (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
List Prices$19.95; UK £15.95; EU €17.95
PublishedOctober 15, 2018