James Ellroy

Book review: Blood’s A Rover

Blood's A RoverBlood’s A Rover by James Ellroy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, JFK, MLK and RFK were all dead by the time this book began, so I was wondering where it would go. Who else could be offed? Thankfully, foreign casino insurgency and a gem heist gone to shit allow Ellroy the chance to work some of his favourite characters (requisite dirty cops, Sal Mineo and Sonny Liston, mysterious double agents, the Mob) into something which isn’t quite as weighed down by history as the preceding books in the trilogy.

The gem heist – and where the gems lead – provides a neat small-scale tableau to provide a break from the Nixon and Hoover machinations. As with the search for rogue drug dealer Durfee in a previous volume, the smaller crime has echoes in the larger political sphere. This time around though, it seems more – human. (more…)

Book review: The Cold Six Thousand

The Cold Six ThousandThe Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Cold Six Thousand picks up from where American Tabloid left off: immediately following John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The broad sweep of history continues through the book – Cuba, Castro, MLK, RFK, Howard Hughes in Vegas, the Mob, J. Edgar Hoover and any number of Hollywood figures – are dissected and dramatised. The book takes us from JFK to RFK on one long death trip – with plenty of scalps on the way. (more…)

Book review: American Tabloid

American TabloidAmerican Tabloid by James Ellroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first in another history-minded trilogy, American Tabloid unpicks the hem of the myth of Camelot while keeping an eye on the main chance. The prose is as jacked-up as half the characters, and it moves forward with a terrifying urgency.

Like his other works, there’s a lot of character specificity and a lot of fine detail evoked. But the Underworld USA trilogy manages to more convincingly convey a sense of momentousness, of this-is-probably-how-it-happened. But it ain’t pretty.

Reading this book is a bit like being repeatedly punched in the face by History. You know something has happened, and you know it’s important and will leave lasting traces for the future. Though you can’t help but feel as if Events had taken you out to an alley and kicked shit out of you. (more…)

Book review: The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women

The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of WomenThe Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women by James Ellroy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hard on the heels of my reading of My Dark Places comes this, a second exploration of the role of women in author James Ellroy’s life.

You probably won’t want to read it if you’re sick of jacking-off-and-peeping stories. Because – though they’re not as explicitly described as elsewhere – they’re here. That and darkened-room fantasising. The short book reeks of control; of others, of self, and the lack thereof.

Ideally, this should be read in concert with My Dark Places. That book explains the importance of the murder of Ellroy’s mother, and its effect on his life. The Hilliker Curse moves past the mechanics of the death and into how his relationships with women have played out over the years. True, his mother is looming, forever, (more…)

Book review: My Dark Places

My Dark PlacesMy Dark Places by James Ellroy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a bummer.

Yes, because the rest of Ellroy’s writing is full of joie de vivre, right?

Nope. This is a complete bummer. But it’s essential if you’ve enjoyed any of his work in the past, because this book is an honest, gruelling examined of how he became who he is. If you’ve ever had a feeling there were some weird peccadilloes in his writing, they’re at least ameliorated a little here.

The book chiefly concerns three people: Ellroy’s mother, Jean Hilliker, Ellroy himself and Bill Stoner, a detective. Each is separately considered – first Hilliker’s murder; Ellroy’s childhood and adolescence; Stoner’s work as an investigator – but latterly combine when Stoner and Ellroy reopen the unsolved case. It’s part confessional, part police-procedural and part ghoulish tourism. (more…)