LA Confidential (video review)

One good turn deserves another, so here is a quick review of James Ellroy’s LA Confidential.

Even if you saw the movie, read LA Confidential. The book is very, very good, even better than the movie.

Published in: on October 30, 2011 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Big Nowhere (video review)

James Ellroy is one of my favorite novelists and his book, The Big Nowhere is near the top of the list when it comes to detective/crime fiction. Here’s a brief video review.

If you’re looking to read one the great stories of the past century, look into Ellroy’s “LA Quartet” as it has come to be know. It begins with The Black Dahlia, moves on to The Big Nowhere, continues with LA Confidential, and wraps up with White Jazz. I’ll be reviewing the other books soon here at the video blog.

Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 11:58 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Up Close and Personal

In Clandestine, James Ellroy takes the reader inside the world of one ambitious cop. Fred Underhill is a young LAPD officer who cleverly dodged service in World War II and makes no bones about his desire to climb the rungs of the police department. He finagles and manipulates, breaks the law and justifies his actions, all in a quest to advance his career. His foibles are many, including an early penchant to pursue women for one night stands and a desire to maintain his golf game.

One of Underhill’s female conquests turns up dead and he notices a pattern in this and another murder. At this point the fuse is lit. Underhill goes beyond the law to catch a killer. In the process, he falls for an assistant district attorney, Lorna, who looms large in everything he does. He also encounters a future James Ellroy larger than life but entirely believeable character: Dudley Smith. Smith and his crew co-opt Underhill, leading him down the road of self-destruction at full speed. Underhill soon implodes as his case evaporates based on new evidence. He subsequently loses Lorna but never his desire to solve the case. Toward the end, the story goes on a rambling quest half way across the USA as Underhill, the crusader turned knight errant, redeems himself by ultimately catching the killer.

Where Clandestine excels is in the vividness of the characters. Underhill, his early partner, his commanding officer, his lovers, and his golf partners, all of them are drawn with the skill of a master. James Ellroy pulls no punches, dilutes no dialog, and reveals everything raw in the course of this story. At times, the emotionally intensity may seem overwrought, but the setting is 1950’s LA, a place where the bloom was off the rose and the thorns sharper than ever. Read, enjoy, and contemplate why other authors don’t measure up, especially the recent slew of flat, thinly worded mystery/thrillers that lack any measure of proper development. Ellroy is a master of the genre. This early example of his work proves the point.

Some James Ellroy Novels

James Ellroy began his career writing detective fiction. His “LA Quartet” series is perhaps the best well known and includes The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, and White Jazz. The first book by Ellroy that I read was The Big Nowhere. This book hooked me on Ellroy’s writing. His work is not pretty, nor is it neat the way some crime fiction is. In fact, the mess of Los Angeles corruption is Ellroy’s fodder. He chews it up and spits it out like no other writer I know. His characters stand head and shoulders above the lame, hand-wringing ninnies of some series. He’s not afraid to have bad cops do good things, evil politicians stoop lower than a snake in the sand, and civilians get whacked in the cross fire. The plots are more convoluted than the frieze on a Hindu temple, and yet as believable as the reality they reflect.

But (and there’s always a ‘but’ in these posts of mine) Ellroy’s work grew beyond detective fiction to include a book that stands out among my top five books of all time, and that would be AMERICAN TABLOID. I put it in all capitals because this book will not only make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, it’ll cause you to break into a cold sweat and the occasional shaking fit. This one takes place in the run up to and aftermath of the Cuban Revolution. It features real-life characters salted in among two CIA agents gone off the reservation. One is Kemper Boyd. The other is Ward Little. These guys are on a collision course with history and each other, not to mention J. Edgar Hoover, Joe Kennedy, Sam Giancana, and a few movie stars in between. Ellroy winds his plot through the minefield of historical drama, giving the reader almost no rest between crooked and kinky deals that ultimately bring Boyd and Little face to face with what they’ve done.

Over the years, Ellroy’s style has evolved into a clipped, almost machine gun fire blitz of language. At times this can wear on me. Nonetheless, I think he is one of America’s great writers in this field. He holds nothing back and that’s what impresses me the most in an age of politically correct sterilization.

Published in: on August 17, 2008 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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