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L.A. Confidential Paperback – September 1, 1997
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James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential is film-noir crime fiction akin to Chinatown, Hollywood Babylon, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Jim Thompson. It's about three tortured souls in the 1950s L.A.P.D.: Ed Exley, the clean-cut cop who lives shivering in the shadow of his dad, a legendary cop in the same department; Jack Vincennes, a cop who advises a Police Squad- like TV show and busts movie stars for payoffs from sleazy Hush-Hush magazine; and Bud White, a detective haunted by the sight of his dad murdering his mom.
Ellroy himself was traumatized as a boy by his party-animal mother's murder. (See his memoir My Dark Places for the whole sordid story.) So it is clear that Bud is partly autobiographical. But Exley, whose shiny reputation conceals a dark secret, and Vincennes, who goes showbiz with a vengeance, reflect parts of Ellroy, too.
L.A. Confidential holds enough plots for two or three books: the cops chase stolen gangland heroin through a landscape littered with not-always-innocent corpses while succumbing to sexy sirens who have been surgically resculpted to resemble movie stars; a vile developer--based (unfairly) on Walt Disney-- schemes to make big bucks off Moochie Mouse; and the cops compete with the crooks to see who can be more corrupt and violent. Ellroy's hardboiled prose is so compressed that some of his rat-a-tat paragraphs are hard to follow. You have to read with attention as intense as hisand that is very intense indeed. But he richly rewards the effort. He may not be as deep and literary as Chandler, but he belongs on the same top-level shelf.
From Publishers Weekly
An intricate procedural set in 1950s L.A. has crooked cops participating in a shoot-out with gangsters and in a precinct-house riot. According to PW , although "even the most noble of the characters here are relentlessly sleazy. . . their grueling, sometimes maniacal schemes make a compelling read for the stout of heart."
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
But the two are different: Little here flows as the movie does, so one does not spoil the other (the book shoots itself, frankly). The book has a sub-population of named corpses, who have no living role in the story, Ed Meeks being one of them (but not under Mrs. Leffert's house) that's another one.. Susan Lefferts is a third---she does manage to get murdered at the Night Owl but with no larger role. On the other hand, Ed Exley's father is very much alive (thus there is no Rollo Tomassi as a plot device). And then, there is Ray Dieterling and Dream a Dreamland (in Pomona) which is clearly referencing Walt Disney and Disneyland by another name, in another place. But why? Why? This bit never got mentioned in the movie without costing the movie a second of lost interest. It adds nothing of interest to the book save for another level of absurdity at the end.
The book begins with Bloody Christmas, where the cops beat up non-white arrestees in the LA jail. It goes on to other things and after what seems like quite a long pause, finally gets around to The Night Owl Massacre, which is where the book (and film) take off. The Dieterling/Elder Exley angle is largely forgotten til almost the end of the book. Characters come in and out---some fictitious, some recreated famous mobsters, but the book (like the movie) centers on Ed Exley (who isn't nearly so clean cut) Jack Vincennes (a hop head cop after hop heads and pushers) and of course Bud White and Dudley Smith, who are written as they are portrayed in the film. Inez, the gang rape victim has a much larger role, which eventually goes to absurd lengths. And there's a serial killer who didn't make the film. And then, about half way through, even the author seems to tire of his fine mess and constructs the first of two large data dumps in the manner of news clippings, Hush Hush in-sin-uating exposes and police reports. The first one was tiresome, the second downright irritating (and the book concludes with a third!). I flipped through.
Eventually, nearly three quarters of the way through the two inch book, the stories begin to come together and the interest level spikes once more. From there on, it's fairly decent reading---but by now you've earned it, having slogged along with all that came before. And then, after it's over, it keeps on going. Another, shorter, data dump. A Part 5! It reminds me of Victor Borge mocking the difficulty the Great Composers had in ending their masterpieces with anything less than a five to ten minute racket of drums, tympani, and sawing string sections.
Allusions were made to the racist language in the professional reviews of the book at its release. That's an understatement. I'm betting Ellroy was having drinks and cigars over cards with his writing cronies when someone quoted a salty line from an older scribe and someone else bemoaned how "you couldn't say anything like that anymore..." which set off a discussion on how a modern author actually could say the meanest things, under certain circumstances, and Ellroy decided, "Hell, I'll write the most offensive book ever!" and set out to write a book that would offend pretty much anyone who wanted to be offended. Only white people escape his racist tongue, but then again, all the white people in the book are in some way damaged goods; psychopathic killers; pornographers; blackmailers; drug dealers and addicts; prostitutes; and cops of all stripes other than good ones. We get the idea that LA and its police was a racist society, but really, with a book this sloppy the author hardly has the indulgence of his readers for this level of vulgar language abuse.
If you haven't read the book or seen the movie, I'd recommend watching the movie and skipping the book.
Having read book 3 in the quartet, it's clear that very talented screenwriters took Ellroy's book and transformed it in order to make such a great movie of a book that has far too many characters with interlocking relationships and histories. The movie also allows several major characters to be more sympathetic and relatable than they are in the book. Denouements of several characters are more interestingly handled in the movie. All in all, I'm glad to have read the book, and will go on to finish the quartet with book 4,"White Jazz" Without James Ellroy's book, the movie would not exist. He is an extremely talented writer and all his books so far have been well worth reading/
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The depth brought to the central characters is vast.Read more