Friday, May 31, 2019

The Demon Dog of Father’s Day

Father’s Day is June 16th – so there’s time for you to recommend some crime-themed reading that could be a useful gift idea for dads of different ages, and with different interests…and allow those reading the blog to order it, and get it in time to wrap it!
I thought this time around I’d stick with one author for this Father’s Day recommendation: James Ellroy. Seems that people either love him or hate him, both as a person and his books. I’m (mostly) in the dig him daddio category.
He’s a trip. His writing is a trip. His books are a trip. They would be good for anyone who’s into new noir with a retro setting, LA history buffs and the usual suspects.
He writes both fiction and non-fiction, short stories and novels, but I’m only going to focus on the novels here. In the fiction category he’s probably best known for his L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, 1987; The Big Nowhere, 1988; L.A. Confidential, 1990; and White Jazz, 1992.) And, while I’m not going to talk about every novel of his here, I do like most of them with the exceptions mentioned here.

I like the way he deals with corruption and the sultry grittiness of his works. They also deal with the other side of the American Dream. And there's an inner core of darkness and corruption in society, a feeling of fear and paranoia. There's a moral ambiguity. They are the equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting with its cold light and shadows, filled with a sense of alienation and angst.
Ellroy is something to behold, both stylistically and if you've ever seen one of his "readings." The Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction started out with a mild roar, crescendoed to a roar on steroids through a Marshall stack with his L.A. Quartet, but seems to have overdosed on Evelyn Wood (remember her?) speed-writing, making some of his works hard to sink your teeth into.

I used to go to all of his readings. At one event he even had a band with him. And one Thanksgiving my sister-in-law's cousin joined us at my parents’. He was working in a bookstore at the time and had been force-fed a reading by Ellroy. Of course, he thought Ellroy an a-hole in so many ways for his "schtick.” And those were the nice things he had to say. So was it the books or his spiel?  Well, he hadn't read the books but he'd heard a little of one in the reading. That was enough for him. But you have to know him and his mindset and the context of the books. That said, if you’re sensitive and need trigger warnings, Ellroy might not be for you or your dad. But the thing with Ellroy is a lot of it is schtick and he’s trying to get your attention…which he does.
The first book in the L.A. Quartet is The Black Dahlia and that’s the first book I read by him. I remember it took me a while to get into it, but once I did I was hooked on the book and hooked on Ellroy. He had several books before The Black Dahlia, but that’s the book that put him on the map. After reading that I read all of his earlier books and couldn’t wait for each subsequent book.

The Big Nowhere is my favorite book in the L.A. Quartet: All are good, but if I had to pick one as a fave it would be The Big Nowhere. To try to describe Ellroy’s fever dream style is an exercise in futility. The story is set in LA in the 50s right after WWII. In part, it follows Sheriff’s deputy Danny Upshaw through the investigation of a series of mutilation crimes and exposes corruption and hypocrisy amid the “red scare”.
Towards the end of the L.A. Quartet series his writing style became more choppy and staccato. I liked it at first, but with later books it got to be too much. His next series was the Underworld USA Trilogy. And I liked American Tabloid, but Blood’s a Rover and the Cold Six-Thousand left me cold. And much of the reason for that was the style.

His most recent book, Perfidia (2014) seems more back to form for me and is the start of a Second L.A. Quartet. And I’m looking forward to his new book This Storm , releasing on June 4th…just in time for Father’s Day.

Some of his books, L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia and Brown’s Requiem (filmed under the title Cop), have been made into movies. And he’s worked on screenplays for other films including Rampart, Dark Blue and others.

Here’s a list of his books:


Brown's Requiem (1981)
Clandestine (1982)
Killer on the Road (originally published as Silent Terror) (1986)

Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy:

Blood on the Moon (1984)
Because the Night (1984)
Suicide Hill (1986)

L.A. Quartet:

The Black Dahlia (1987)
The Big Nowhere (1988)
L.A. Confidential (1990)
White Jazz (1992)

Underworld USA Trilogy:

American Tabloid (1995)
The Cold Six Thousand (2001)
Blood's a Rover (2009)

The Second L.A. Quartet:

Perfidia (2014)
This Storm (2019)

I’d also like to say that my books might make good Father’s Day gifts, too. For the most part, they’re gritty L.A.-set stories. Novels: White Heat, Broken Windows, Vortex (stand-alone) and L.A. Late @ Night, a collection of previously published stories. And two collections of short stories that I co-edited with Andy McAleer: Coast to Coast: Private Eyes (14 award nominations, two stories chosen for Best American Mysteries of 2018), Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea.


And now for the usual BSP:

New May issue of Mystery Weekly is out. And I'm honored to have my new story The Box featured on the cover. Hope you'll check it out. -- This link is to the Kindle version, but there's also a paper version available.


My short story House of the Rising Sun and lots of other great stories are in Switchblade - Issue 9, which is available on Amazon (Kindle version): The paperback version is also available:

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Good picks, Paul. You can't go wrong with James Ellroy. I'm looking forwards to This Storm.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dieter. I'm looking forward to This Storm, too. Even holding off on starting something new so I can get it and read it when it comes out...maybe.

Lawrence Maddox said...

The Big Nowhere is great. Maybe Ellroy’s best? I haven’t read his new one yet. Of his later books, maybe Tabloid is my fav.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Larry. The Big Nowhere is my favorite of his. And of his later I like Tabloid. Can't wait for the new one.