My head was in a very bad place after reading this book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a great book, but plot is so serpentine and gritty it makes the 1997 film version look like a Pixar short (opening sequence of Up notwithstanding). James Ellroy’s vision of 1950s Los Angeles is dark, mean and merciless. There are no “good guys.” There are only hard, jaded men whose demons push them to pursue some form of justice and none of them come away unscathed. That’s not hyperbole.
The three main characters, Edmund Exley, Wendell “Bud” White and Jack “Trashcan Jack” Vincennes have their fates intertwined by the “Bloody Christmas” scandal, a real-life even involving the severe beating of several civilians by LAPD officers in 1951. The subsequent departmental shake up sets all three men on a path involving police corruption, murder, drugs and vice connecting to the highest levels of society. It’s hard to say much more about the plot, not because of spoilers but because it so dense.
This book was really damned good but it’s not for the faint of heart. Everyone in it, even the protagonists, are ugly. Every awful thing that can be done to a person seems to happen at some point in this book. But it’s also very smartly written and keeps you guessing.