I began the calendar year 2018 with the belief that, among other things, I would never be a fan of James Ellroy.
Many readers have that one author they think they should like, perhaps because they are drawn to said author’s specific genre (for me, that’s mystery novels, particularly moody period pieces set in LA). And they try, try, and try again to get into their books with no luck.
James Ellroy is that writer for me. I read American Tabloid years ago and it was a labor of labor. Ellroy’s books are just so rampantly cynical. I’m not opposed to cynicism; hell, I’m a Jim Thompson fan! But whereas a writer like Thompson uses cynicism as an ingredient for tales that can best be described as “artful nihilism,” Ellroy turns the knob to 10, rips it off, and stuffs a bunch of American cultural references in his work, almost like if Brett Easton Ellis tried to write a Raymond Chandler novel.
But given the times we live in, my perspective on things is emerging. Cynicism is slowly but surely creeping into my ethos. And so, when I sat down to read The Cold Six Thousand this past summer after three previously aborted attempts, I found a new perspective on it. At last, I was on Ellroy’s wavelength. And I could appreciate, and in some respects enjoy, his work. This was followed by Perfidia, which I read last week and is definitely one of the best things I’ve delved into in 2018. Still having a taste for Ellroy, I decided to go back to the beginning of the LA Quartet with this one.
You can see the seeds of what would make Ellroy great. He tries to center a book around a relationship between two male cops and a live-in woman but romantic relationships have never been Ellroy’s strong suit and I’m glad he didn’t bother much with it in later novels. All along, I got the sense he wanted to ditch the facade of the characters and show me how the mystery plays out. Because the book is strongest when Bleichert is on the case. And when he is, it’s damn strong.
The resolution felt lacking, though I was somewhat surprised by the players involved. Again, in my limited readings of Ellroy, he seems less interested in how the book ends and more interested in the story itself. It’s an art he would perfect with later works. And now, I suppose I’m off to read said works. To paraphrase a popular 2016 election year rallying cry: Man, I guess I’m with him.