Saturday, October 17, 2009


Flash back 14 years. I'm the Mystery/Thriller bookseller at Borders in Towson. A big guy walks in, sporting a faded Hawaiian shirt and shorts. Has a cheesy mustache, a beer gut, and a shaved head. Seems intense, makes instant eye contact. Introduces himself as "James Ellroy." Asks if he can sign his books.

I pull them. His new one is selling, I say. I ask him about American Tabloid. We fall into a lengthy banter about JFK conspiracy theories. We talk up DeLillo's Libra. I decide to read American Tabloid, and get a first edition inscribed: "This book rages!" with a doodle of a dog saying "woof!" The signature is two curved lines not connected.

I read American Tabloid 14 years ago and really dug on it, but only now got around to The Cold Six Thousand, its sequel. The sequel runs from Dallas in '63 up to the Ambassador in '68. We meet the conspirators behind the assassinations, the contractors who work for the Agency, for Howard Hughes, for the mafia. We meet the right-wing hate activists, the FBI agent provacateurs, the lawyers, the dope fiends. Some characters are real, some are fictional. The story is as correct a portrayal as how things really work as I've read, even if the details aren't true, they are "true."

I must admit that Ellroy's prose irks me sometimes. The clipped three-word sentences annoy, particularly when he strings them together with a common subject: "Pete watched Ward. Pete braced Wayne. Pete geezed geeks," etc. But often the prose clicks and sizzles, and the immense cast of characters moving behind and between the major timeline events of the sixties is a great deal of fun. Everyone connives, everyone betrays, everyone skims. Ellroy rules.

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