More corrupted cops, conniving DAs, ruthless gangsters, psychopathic killers. Less truth and even less justice in the City of the Angels. Welcome to the world of James Ellroy. More setups, more cover-ups, more fall guys, more hush-hushes. Likeable characters? Not in this novel. Heroes and good guys? Sure, plenty in the news (besides here at Hush-Hush). Just don’t look in the closet or underneath the carpet. Redemption? Only if you’ve been living under a rock. This is La La Land, Hollywood Land, Dream-a-Dreamland.
The main event: Night Owl Shooting, 1824 Cherokee, 6 dead in food locker, gore, mutilations, blood two-feet deep. Spotted: purple ‘48-’50 Merc Coupe outside the shop. Make: three black young men discharging shotguns into the air in Griffith Park. Fall guys for a cover-up.
L.A. City Hall
Lieutenant Detective Ed Exley--ambitious, straight shooter, son of real estate magnate and former police detective--intends to solve the case, his meal ticket up the ladder to captain, then inspector. Eclipse his dead brother: competing with the dead, a sure loss, to seek his father’s approval, the great man who solved the famous Atherson case (hush-hush on the cover up). Never mind Ed faked his heroism during W.W.II to get a medal. Very hush-hush.
Officer Wendell (Bud) White--speaks with his fists, speaks with fists again before speaking with his mouth, watched his father beat his mother to death while chained to a bed, then watched her rot--intends to solve a string of prostitute killings: his obsession, his search for redemption. If only his brain could react before his fists do. Not in this novel, not in Ellroy’s world.
Sergeant Jack Vincennes aka Trashcan Jack--celebrity cop, self-interested, killed an innocent couple while on dope, but hush-hush--investigates the making and distribution of pornography. Sets up the D.A. for a scandal during a campaign so his friend wins the election, in exchange for favors. Feeds dirt to Hush-Hush for sin-sational news (thanks, Jack).
Likeable they aren’t, but colorful and struggling for their souls. And losing. In the end, they go to hell, literally or figuratively. You may want them redeemed, but remember, this is the world of James Ellroy.
All the slurs against blacks, Mexicans and gays, all the blood and gore for realism, they could be too much. Sure, James Ellroy was building a canvass: pornography, prostitution, heroine trafficking, police extortion, political corruption--a dark portrait of the City of Angels in the 50’s. But the excesses can be a turnoff.
What keeps the readers turning the pages? The plot, the plot, the plot. Multiple cases converge, involving the cast of criminals--cops, gangsters, production cast, psychopaths. Main plot and subplots interweave to form a tapestry of crime and sin and corruption and conspiracy. One of the most satisfying plots in a mystery/crime novel, complex enough to keep the reader from dosing.
James Ellroy (Photo: Mark Coggins)
Just too bad about not having a shootout between Ed Exley and Bud White. The quick and the dead. Would’ve been the pivotal scene.
Still, all the details that’s fit to print, in a fast-paced writing style, minimalism to the Nth order. Yes, style, style, style, either you love it or you hate it. Or you love it but hate it. But it fits well with the plot and theme.
And lad, even after Trashcan Jack kicks the bucket and Bud White becomes a cripple, your beloved Captain Dudley Smith is alive and well though he couldn’t become inspector. Containment. Contained. Wink, wink.
Remember, dear reader: you heard it here first, off-the-record, on the Q.T., and very Hush Hush.