Read as part of CBR15Bingo: hold steady. James Ellroy is a favorite author of mine; I return to his work often. This is the second in his Freddy Otash series. And it features a “protagonist” in a lot of trouble.
I only found out less than a month ago that James Ellroy was coming out with a new book. I keep my ear close to the ground as far as Ellroy is concerned so I’m not sure why the delayed announcement here. But I put it on reserve immediately and, despite some challenging life/work circumstances, finished it as soon as I could.
I haven’t been impressed with Ellroy’s recent output. This Storm was a jumbled mess, a karaoke version of his legendary LA Quartet novels (and a disappointment after Perfidia did a great job kicking off the new series). Widespread Panic was so uninspired as to be forgettable. Seriously, I read that book two years ago and can barely remember anything about it except Joi Lansing’s presence and the running gag of Orson Welles being the Black Dahlia murderer.
Part of the issue is Otash himself, a real life “Private Eye to the Stars.” Ellroy had wanted to write about Otash until he actually met the man and found him to be a self-glorifying dud. So he invented the character of Pete Bondurant in the Underworld USA trilogy as kind of a stand-in. But it’s clear he never got over Otash, which is why we’re getting these new books that…are part of a new series featuring Otash? I don’t think he’s counting these as part of the new LA Quintet (apparently, there will be five according to the list of published works in this one).
Also, James Ellroy writing about Marilyn Monroe is like William Shakespeare writing about King Arthur in that it never happened (at least for Shakespeare and until this month, Ellroy too) and I’m kind of surprised. Ellroy has a fascination with conspiracy theories, powerful men, glamorous and murdered women, yet Monroe has never rated in his works the way Joan Crawford has, or obviously poor Elizabeth Short. So it’s weird to see him take her on.
All that to say, this book is fantastic. It’s some of Ellroy’s best work.
I think because of the scattered nature of his first Otash work and the sloppy nature of This Storm, my expectations for The Enchanters were low. I figured it’d be a Monroe-esque version of Widespread Panic. But it’s quite good. The plot stays propulsive but I could kind of follow what was going on, it takes some interesting detours, puts a different spin on the Monroe myths (as only Ellroy can), and has a comprehensible ending.
A big piece of this is how Ellroy tones down the racial commentary and phallic obsessiveness. It still comes out; this is James Ellroy, after all. But it’s much more muted. This is a focused work, a quality work. I don’t know what compelled him to go back to the style that worked for Perfidia. One-person POVs are not usually his thing. But everything comes together nicely here. Also, the Dramatis Personae in the back of the book is hilarious.
So I guess I can be excited again for new Ellroy novels. Bravo.