65 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Malice in Wonderland
The Underworld USA trilogy began in 1995 with publication of American Tabloid and covered events in the early sixties. Five years passed before readers could dig into The Cold Six Thousand. Blood's a Rover (title taken from a poem by Houseman) begins shortly after the King and Kennedy assasinations in 1968 and takes us through the Chicago riots and Nixon's elections...
Published on September 24, 2009 by The Ginger Man
35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Third Best of the Trilogy
In this final installment of the "Underworld U.S.A." trilogy Wayne Tedrow, Dwight Holly and the boys are back carrying out their portion of an American history that might have been. They have their hands in the cover ups of the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, Howard Hughes' purchase of Vegas casinos, and the mob's Caribbean connections. And that's...
Published on September 28, 2009 by T. Karr
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65 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Malice in Wonderland,
The Underworld USA trilogy began in 1995 with publication of American Tabloid and covered events in the early sixties. Five years passed before readers could dig into The Cold Six Thousand. Blood's a Rover (title taken from a poem by Houseman) begins shortly after the King and Kennedy assasinations in 1968 and takes us through the Chicago riots and Nixon's elections. Like previous entries, the book delivers an alternate, underground history of the partnership between Hoover's FBI and various criminal elements. Ellroy entices us through the looking glass to demonstrate the impact of that unsavory alliance on modern political history. Characters from previous books abound (Dwight Holley, Wayne Tedrow) as well as public figures both significant (Nixon, Howard Hughes) and obscure (Sal Mineo)
Ellroy's Hoover is not much concerned with organized crime. Instead he is obsessed with student protesters, civil rights demonstrators, non-existant domestic Reds, and any politician he believes to be aligned with these groups. In this dark world, former cop Wayne Tedrow meets with mob heads after a drop off of cash to candidate Nixon and notices on the wall, a photo showing one of the gangsters playing golf with Pope Pius.
The author's style is stacatto, high-adrenaline narrative alternating with newspaper headlines and supposed excerpts from personal journals. A chapter begins: "Dwight read files. A radio spritzed the news. Nixon and Humphrey grubbed for votes and see-sawed poll-wise. Jimmy Ray and Sirhan Sirhan fermented in custody." Using this approach, Ellroy packs a great deal of action and emotional impact into a few paragraphs. Over hundreds of pages, the result can be exhausting.
I found all 3 books hugely entertaining as literature and utterly unnerving as political myth-making. The reader dismisses much of it as bizarre speculation. However, after years of journalistic revelations such as White House sanctioned Mob attempts on Castro's life, the reader finds himself asking if parts of Ellroy's story sounds more real than various official histories.
The fictional narrator begins this final nightmare volume by telling us "This book derives from stolen public files and usurped private journals. It is the sum of personal adventure and forty years of scholarship...I did what I did and I saw what I saw and learned my way through the rest of the story." Conspiracy tales such as this can be oddly comforting. They replace the horror which results from chance and the grand indifference of the universe with tragedy that is the product of the guiding hand of malice. Evil, while monstrous and frightening, can be opposed. Accident must be endured.
The immense appeal of the Underworld Trilogy derives as much from this replacement of chaos with dark design as it does from Ellroy's unique narrative gifts. It is an appeal that produces excitement if it is understandably light on comfort.
43 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant conclusion to the trilogy plays with the reader's expectations,
First off, I'll admit some bias here. I'm a big Ellroy fan, and American Tabloid is neck-and-neck with Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities for my favourite novel of all time. There appear to be a couple of Ellroy haters among the reviewers so far, and fair enough, he's a love-or-hate writer. If you don't like Ellroy, you won't like Blood's a Rover. If, like me, you do like Ellroy, then this book will fulfil yet confound your every expectation.
I won't bother with outlining the plot other than to say it's as tangled and propulsive as you'd expect from Ellroy. What some may want to know is how it compares to American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. It's probably closer in tone to the former, lacking the latter's highly stylised presentation. It's a smoother read, in other words, but still requires some investment on the reader's part. That investment is rewarded many times over, however, and things barrel along at a wonderful page-turning rate.
There are two main distinctions between this and Ellroy's earlier work. The first is his portrayal of women. While there are some recognisable tics, such as the younger male characters' borderline oedipal fixations on older women, and a tendency for those same women to be physically or pschologically scarred, Ellroy this time gives his female characters more room to breathe and develop. They are more than objects of obsession there to torture the male characters.
The other difference is the heart of the piece; one could argue Ellroy's work perhaps lacked emotional depth, but not so with Blood's a Rover. Oddly for an author of his vintage, this is perhaps the most mature book of his career.
It's also his most personal novel since The Black Dahlia. One character, Don Crutchfield, is ostensibly based on a real life private eye still alive and working today, but the character on the page is clearly based on Ellroy's young self. The book may also leave you questioning your idea of the author's politics. He has wilfully played up his right wing public persona, but the politics of Blood's a Rover (and when looking at the trilogy as a whole) skew left of centre.
Some might accuse Ellroy of putting style over substance, but one aspect of this novel clearly illustrates his skill as a straight-up storyteller. It's when he starts playing with your expectations of the book, turning the story on its head so that you can't even take the narrative itself at face value, that you realise why he is the greatest living crime writer. It's virtuoso stuff.
I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book back in April, and it has stuck with me since then. It's a brilliant conclusion to the Underworld USA trilogy, and any Ellroy fan will be seduced once again by the master of the hard word.
35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Third Best of the Trilogy,
In this final installment of the "Underworld U.S.A." trilogy Wayne Tedrow, Dwight Holly and the boys are back carrying out their portion of an American history that might have been. They have their hands in the cover ups of the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, Howard Hughes' purchase of Vegas casinos, and the mob's Caribbean connections. And that's just for starters.
The plot loosely centers around an armored car heist in Los Angeles involving emeralds and millions of dollars. Holly, L.A. police officer Scotty Bennett, and a young wheelman named Donald "Peeper" Crutchfield are all trying to figure out the robbery (when they are not carrying out CIA directives, mob directives, or trying to figure out the mysterious women in their lives).
I really liked "American Tabloid." I loved "The Cold Six Thousand." I cannot say the same for "Blood's A Rover." This novel just doesn't quite have the energy level of the first two. It is an amazing piece of work, but there is just so much going on and there is just too much repetition. (How many times does the reader have to be told that a character is getting amped up to read through their heist files one more time? My guess is that I saw that scene played out at least a dozen times.)
The characters even seem somewhat repetitious. Despite varying backgrounds and ethnicities, they all have the same amazingly vast vocabularies for people who are essentially self-centered, schemers who are prone to extreme violence.
Really, I wanted to like "Blood's A Rover," but it is just okay. I can only recommend this novel to those who have read AND enjoyed "American Tabloid" and "The Cold Six Thousand."
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Parody Of Itself,
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First of all, I've read a number of Elroy books and loved them. American Tabloid and LA Confidential were great, and even the Cold Six Thousand was enjoyable.
But Blood's A Rover: not so much. Frankly, I spent so much time in the book that I don't want to go too deep into a review because I feel like I've spent enough of my life on this one.
Those that have read Elroy, imagine the things that make Elroy's prose unique inflated to the point that they've become parodies of themselves. The characters in Blood's A Rover are absurd (both in behavior and speech), and his choppy writing style, which at one time may have evoked a more modern Chandler, now just comes off as incredibly annoying.
No one's debating that the book is quite an accomplishment: Elroy ties a huge amount of information and story lines together, and it was clearly a massive undertaking. In the end though, it's just not very well written or edited, and I began to hate the damn thing by the time I was halfway through it.
For folks new to Elroy and looking for some of his work, keep away from this and get American Tabloid, LA Confidential, or The Big Nowhere. For past fans, like me, it's best to hope for a better effort next time - or, better yet, check out the Philip Kerr's wonderful noir trilogy Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem, which is well worth a read.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Boomer Bust,
I've read everything James Ellroy has ever written, and loved almost all his work (KILLER ON THE ROAD is a hard book to love, though it's very well written--he just gets too far inside the head of a really repellant character for the book to be anything other than brilliantly repellant). I was pretty itchy to see what he'd come up with after such a long wait. Sadly, what he came up with is (for me) the most schematic, thin and unintentionally comedic book of an illustrious career.
Everything that's great about earlier works like WHITE JAZZ, THE BLACK DAHLIA and AMERICAN TABLOID is present, but in parodic form. The telegraphic style of WHITE JAZZ (which makes it a tough read for some) makes its return, especially in the chapters dedicated to the voyeuristic peeper/spy "Crutch" Crutchfield, but the balletic control of the technique has gone missing; what used to read like the most hardboiled of hardboiled prose plays here like an homage to the mundanely blank-voiced Gertrude Stein. Los Angeles returns as a key location, but it's not the vivid nightmare L.A. of Ellroy's earlier imaginings, but rather a curiously topography-less environment about as detailed as a Google map.
As in the L.A. Quartet, all three of his corrupt cop protagonists are kinky psycho-sexual obsessives and/or fetishists, though their fetish objects seem to wax and wane based on the narrative's hectic plotting. It's particularly disconcerting to see Wayne Tedrow Jr. from THE COLD SIX THOUSAND morph rather suddenly from a man who lusts after his dead father's much younger wife into a man obsessed with the black widow (in the African American sense) of an accidental victim of a killing he's been commanded to perform.
Tedrow's stepmother dies of cancer rather conveniently to make way for this total shift in his psyche, which gives an idea of some of the lazy plotting in this book. Not one but two of Ellroy's secretive secondary characters keep extremely explicit (and hyper literary) diaries that are quoted from liberally, which makes no sense for them as people, seemingly because Ellroy can't think of any other way to get inside their heads without violating his decision to have the novel proper told only from the perspective of his three "bad lieutenants." And the book even fails as a mystery, which is still nominally Ellroy's genre; you can smell some of the principal plot twists from a mile away.
Worst of all is the way this book is basically a Cook's Tour of the same baby boomer right of passage b.s. many of us who don't or barely remember that era are tired of hearing about. The assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King hang over everything like a pall of smoke (I use a cliche to describe a cliche), the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention are told from the p.o.v. of Ellroy's cop provocateurs, Richard Nixon (who's part of the plot) lurches toward his Watergate apocalypse, etc.
Ellroy throws J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes and Nixon into the mix as characters, but he never sketches them in enough detail to make them convincing. Even the crazed Hughes and the senile Hoover basically talk the way too many of the secondary characters in this book seem to--in pure exposition, designed to advance a very plotty plot.
I want to see this book as a transitional one, but it could be a decadent effort from a writer who has said his piece. After all, WHITE JAZZ, THE BLACK DAHLIA and even KILLER ON THE ROAD were important transformations in Ellroy's style of writing and in his thinking too, and all three of those books are riveting reads. BLOOD'S A ROVER is one of those books that can be really upsetting to a rabid fan, because it's close enough in tone (but not achievement) to the works you loved that it makes you question how much you'd love them if you read them again. Something tells me THE BLACK DAHLIA and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL would stand, but I fear for my fresh responses to AMERICAN TABLOID and THE COLD SIX THOUSAND if I pick up either one of them while this one is still roving around in my head.
Ellroy's muse is a hardy one, but the late 60s seem to have completely defeated him, at least for this reader. For all the restless action and typically extreme violence, Ellroy's creations just aren't up to seeming like defining archetypes or prime movers of an era they don't really seem to have come from. They're like hooligans from out of town spray painting their names on the wall of history, and they made this reader feel like the cranky shopkeeper who has to roll up his sleeves, get out some acetone and scrub the bricks off.
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars View not worth the climb,
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This was a difficult call since the book has been lauded as Ellroy's masterpiece and his video interviews proclaim his own pride in this work. Everything being relative, it's a big piece of cheese to ride out on. Due to the enormous length, I found myself skimming a lot and not feeling I was missing a thing. Ellroy's trademark violence and brutality are all present, and his jargon is right off the street. But a lot of the patchwork quilt plot seems a stretch, more like linked stories than a cohesive novel. There might possibly be a tight thriller hidden on these pages, and I wish his editor had pointed this out to him. Also, I wish I'd liked it more.
37 of 54 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Ellroy himself says he's "the greatest crime novelist who ever lived.". Be skeptical!,
Grab a Paris Review #190. Ellroy's in it. Says Chandler's 'incoherent.' He should talk. Says he has an agent that checks for motivation and logic. Needs a new agent. Says (I like this): "If your confused about something in one my my books, you've just got to realize, Ellroy's a master, and if I'm not following it, it's my problem. You just have to submit to me." Says "This book is going to be better than War and Peace." Says he's "impervious to criticism." Bet he's flanked by 'yes-men.' Remember Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate?"
"Blood's A Rover" is long long long. Last two hundred pages weigh five pounds per page. Most sentences 'subject-verb-object.' Three words. Sometimes a couple more. Sometimes less. Fries your brain. You beg for a comma. You beg for a subordinate clause. Good for ESL training. Ellroy says the French love him. Vichy? Free? Doesn't say. Ellroy and Jerry Lewis. Tag team. Blood's characters all talk alike 'cept a few po' blax. Ellroy tosses in 'found' diaries. Sentences hit twelve words. Real Victorian. Bronte. "Clarissa." Rover's 600 + pages with NO character development. NO motivation. Dig in! Like plot repetition? Dialogue repetition? Enjoy! Laughable coincidence? This tome's for you! Here's the thread: dull>superdull>dull>eye gouge>dull>dull>brains splatter. Real Old Testament stuff.
"American Tabloid"? Great novel. Great. Should've stopped. Pulled a Harper Lee. Salinger. No. Couldn't stop. Had to write more. Too bad for us.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Underworld fiction????????,
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This review is from: Blood's a Rover: Underworld USA 3 (Kindle Edition)
you got what you expected - a differant read!! It makes you think about the realitys af life- what is life really like? what is real and what is fiction? The author must get ideas from somewhere or is it all just fantasy!?
17 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Testosterone O.D.,
I once heard an interview with a writer (whose name I sadly forget) on the CBC, and they asked him why the opening chapters of his books read so slow. The crusty old author replied, "That's to weed out the ribbon clerks."
A great line (actually, a gambling expression), and I've been using it ever since, and it certainly applies to "Blood's A Rover," as the first hundred pages are like wading through a sewer. After that, after we get acquainted with all the characters and situations, things clear-up to reveal more sewer. Don't get me wrong; I am of a low socioeconomic caste and thus not offended by all the obscenities, the racial, homophobic and sexist epithets or the drug use or the overwhelming lewdness of the book, it's just that I'm so jaded with such naughtiness, that it's like being trapped in a boy's locker room for 640 pages.
In addition to the ribbon clerks, I would advise the billions of fans of Dan Brown's thrillers to avoid James Ellroy's books. Dan Brown explains it all to you in clear, precise English; not once, but several times, when you've already figured it out beforehand, because it's so obvious. "Blood's A Rover" holds its big denouement for the very end, and until then you're left scratching your whiskers. Information is parceled out in very small portions, and the purpose of such a scheme is to give you periodic jolts of A-HA! Now I get it! The book certainly could use a "Dramatis Personae" -- a list of characters often found in plays and older books-- so as the help the reader keep track of the myriad of names he is confronted with, but of course there is none, because Ellroy don't cut you no slack. Actually, this book needs a flow chart.
It's a difficult book, and I think that what James Ellroy is trying to do is to take the Mike Hammer style of crime fiction by Mickey Spittoon and work with it and --just as Beethoven made symphonies out of folk tunes-- make genuine literature out of the American hard-boiled crime genre. Make it challenging, make it sophisticated, make it long.
The only problem with such a scheme is that the beauty of pulp fiction is that it's fast-paced and so much fun that you'll likely read a book in one sitting. To create his literary masterpiece, Ellroy takes enough material to form a typical paperback crime novel and stretches it so thin that you can no longer see the ink. Naturally, he remedies this situation by adding pages and pages of padding. Padding and repetition; lots and lots of repetition. Dwight and Karen are in bed, reminiscing, and Dwight goes for a cigarette. Karen wants one too, but she's ten-months pregnant, so he won't giver her one.
Waitaminute?! Didn't you just read that exact scene thirty pages ago? Yes you did, and you read it twenty pages before that, too. How many times in the book does one of the female characters say, "I'm not telling you." 75? 100? Seriously. And then there's the classic, "It was a procedure and you where nowhere near the receptacle." Why? Why repeat such a lame line? How many times must we learn that Joan has a knife scar on her arm?
Even worse, during the vast sections where nothing is happening (Dwight is studying the files with a headache, Wayne is studying the files zonked out, Crutch is studying the files and the photos while sweating), in these stagnant doldrums, he throws in these phony DOCUMENT INSERTS which add nothing, but simply retell the previous thirty pages, this time in English. The DOCUMENT INSERTS concerning the protagonist, Dwight Holly, serve only to show once again (and again) what a brown-noser he is. The book is already a drag, but these inserts really slow it down.
Then, I suppose to maintain the reader's attention and remain true to the hard-boiled genre, every hundred pages or so there's a completely gratuitous massacre in which some insignificant humans die in a hail of bullets. No description of violence is too gory or exaggerated for Ellroy's febrile imagination, as when heads are blown off (000 buckshot yet!) the bloody stumps continue to scream and gurgle. It's not cartoon violence, it's Zap Comix violence.
It seems to be the common theme of James Ellroy's novels that things are not what they seem, and that every conceivable conspiracy theory is not only true, but it doesn't even scratch the surface. Lurking everywhere (and spying on you through your computer as you read this very sentence) is this vast network of corruption -- the evil white men, the pols and mob bosses and vested interests-- that really controls everything.
Well, that's what the average American thinks (that's why he's broke -- THEY'RE conspiring to reposes his 4x4!), so no wonder Ellroy's books are so popular. But all of this is so over the top that those of us not suffering from the heartbreak of psychosis must fancy that it's all as realistic as a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
But that's o.k. That's just fine, because one could consider such gross exaggeration as a metaphor, and its effect is to portray America as corrupt and evil as the Taliban realizes it is. Ellroy is an artist, and the image he depicts is that of the Statue of Liberty wearing a huge strap-on.
It's a pretty far-out book, and that's what kept me slogging through it. I know of no other author writing today who is creating such bizarre material, and it reminds me of all the avant-garde authors I enjoyed in my youth. In fact, that's what Ellroy's writing resembles the most -- yeah, the Mickey Spilane factor is obvious, but there's a lot of Wm. S. Burroughs in here too (especially the incoherent parts) and it dawned on me that Ellroy's actual style is a dead ringer for the prose of NYC beatnik writer Ed Sanders, and this book reads much like Sander's true crime account of The Family in L.A. I'll betcha.
Whatever faults which entrammel "Blood's A Rover" might be forgiven, at least in part, because at least Ellroy's not merely another writer of those Techno Thriller penny dreadfuls. There's a certain perverse imagination at work here, and that's a good thing. I'd be all set to start cheering for Ellroy except for . . . except . . .
My one pet peeve with fiction is that it should be accurate. If you were writing a book about life on the farm, you wouldn't tell how milk is produced by pumping the cow's tail up-and-down, would you? Therefore, I jeer at all the mystery writers who put "safety levers" or "safety catches" on revolvers. If you're gonna write in detail about guns, at least learn the basics of how they work. James Ellroy does not put safeties on revolvers, but he does put silencers on magnums. (One would assume that the silencer would be as large as a water heater.) We are also treated to the scene of Wayne cutting-off prisoners' chains with a pair of tinsnips (why do you think they call them TIN snips?), and a bank which keeps a crowbar handy in its storage closet. (Please return when through robbing.)
When Wayne Tedrow (who's basically the same character as Dwight Holly but who conveniently has a chemistry degree) is getting the recipe of some strange Voodoo dope he spouts some pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo and all you Dale Gribbles out there will readily accept it as realistic. But if you look at what is written, you quickly realize it's utter nonsense. He uses "alkaline" as a noun; if Ellroy had done any research for this mess, he would surely have written "alkaloid."
On page 310 there's a howler that a '62 Chevy Impala has been transformed into a vehicle fit to navigate the DR's (Dominican Republic -- you get used to all the initials in the book) terrain with "Jeep tires and an off-road transaxle."
Now why write about such mechanical details without knowing the first thing about cars? (A '62 Impala is a rear-wheel drive car, and as such, has a drive shaft, a differential and two axles all in a housing. Where would you mount a transaxle? On the roof?)
I have a long list of other such absurdities, but, to avoid too depressing a report, I'll leave you with but two more. Don Crutchfield (sort of a junior version of Wayne and Dwight) gets nervous when doing wire taps, so much so that his headphones fill-up with sweat and short the system out. He's so nervous that he bites his gums until they bleed. That's a neat trick -- ever try biting your gums?
In short, it's somewhat admirable that James Ellroy even attempts such bizarre and unconventional novels, but his execution of them is really shabby. He's not a very good writer. If you're over 21, you really should be reading something better.
8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Completely abstract-- really bad, and totally bonkers,
I've loved many James Ellroy novels, and at least admired most of them. But, like the Cold Six Thousand, this is a big book filled with bad writing, characters who are little more than tag lines, plot movements that lack any sort of motivation and line-by-line writing so vapid and ridiculously mannered, one has to wonder why an editor didn't step in. That great staccato slang voice that worked so well in White Jazz, and still worked in American Tabloid (to a lesser degree, not being tied to the character of Dave Klein), does not serve this story at all. It creates abstraction to such a degree that it's almost impossible to visualize anything. Characters are flat and their sudden shifts in desire and loyalty aren't credible. We're to believe that every man who meets Red Joan simply falls head over heels, cut-out-your-own-heart in love with her, ready to betray anything and risk anything for her. Yet this is simply never made credible in scene. Joan, like the men who circle her, remains a complete abstraction, and that's one of the most damaging things about the narrative. The book, in a word, is ridiculous. I listen to Mr. Ellroy talk in videos and interviews, and he seems to have lost touch with the world outside his ego. I want someone to have an intervention, make him stop saying things like "I'm the Beethoven of crime fiction", and get him to write a good book again.
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Blood's a Rover (Underworld USA) by James Ellroy (Paperback - August 24, 2010)