Friday, September 18, 2015


*Book 1 of the Underworld U.S.A. trilogy*
"He used to pimp and pull shakedowns. Now he rode shotgun to History."
Whoa, Ellroy's done it again. Another 5-star read. So far , that's 5 out of 5 for me. This time, he takes
his talent for weaving complex plots and conspiracies from his 50's Los Angeles setting and unleashes it nationwide in an epic re-shaping of the country's turbulent history between 1958 and 1963 as we follow three men who play pivotal roles in the events that ultimately lead to that infamous day in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.

Just when I thought a conspiracy couldn't get any more complex than L.A. Confidential's, this book takes it to a whole new level. But surprisingly, even though this is bigger in scope, I actually found it easier to follow along here than in Confidential. I'm not sure why that is, but maybe it has something to do with the author's growth as a writer.  
"His courage was weakness pushed into grandiosity."
Along with the immense amount of historical detail, plot development, and supporting players, Ellroy is able to create three of his most fascinating protagonists who, through their individual fears, dreams, and covetousness, end up creating the history we know today. Ward Littel is an FBI agent who dreams of taking down mobsters and has a fascination with crime-buster Robert Kennedy and his cool-cat buddy Kemper Boyd. Ward is desperate to get rid of his reputation for being a punk bitch, decides that he'll do anything to gain favor, and discovers talents that provide him an opportunity he's never dreamed of. His friend Kemper Boyd is obsessed with the Kennedy family and their high-class status, and starts to juggle multiple secret allegiances with the FBI, the CIA, the KKK, Jack Kennedy, and the Mob in order to get to that same status. Pete Bondurant is a shakedown artist and dope-procurer for Howard Hughes. He's getting tired of the extortion world and sees his job in jeopardy once Howard Hughes starts transforming into a Mormon vampire, so when Kemper and the CIA come calling, he sees a way out and a way to big money. These three guys are intriguing and complicated, and their arcs and journeys are what really gives the book its heart.
"Boyd was now some triple or quadruple agent. Boyd was a self-proclaimed insomniac. Boyd said rearranging lies kept him up nights."
Ellroy is constantly experimenting with form and language and it always works for me (but might not work for other people). I'm not sure how he is able to pull this stuff off. It seems like he's so entrenched in the eras that he portrays, and these stories in his head are so desperate to get out, that the words just spill out onto the page. And what's produced is a piece of work that is his and his alone. He is definitely one of a kind. And as usual for Ellroy, there's enough material in this bad boy for three separate books. You would think that something this huge would run away and get too large for the author, but once again, he is able to stick his landing in glorious form and bring it all to an awesome ending. He really knows how to pull off a great conclusion and that's a big factor in my 5-star ratings.
"Hughes kept Lenny on the payroll to write a private skank sheet.
The sheet would feature skank too skanky for public skank consumption. The sheet would be read by two skank fiends only: Dracula and J. Edgar Hoover."
He is not interested in accuracy, but more interested in how the people in power in our country are just as complicated as we are. But while our complications only really have an effect on us or those close to us, their complications affect the whole country. So watch who you vote for. 
How much of Ellroy's fucked-up epic is true? I have no clue, and that's not what matters. What matters is that we all know that it could happen in America and we wouldn't be all that surprised if it actually did happen. And that notion is terrifying.
"It's time to demythologize an era and build a new myth from the gutter to the stars. It's time to embrace bad men and the price they paid to secretly define their time.
Here's to them."


  1. I completely agree with you on this book. It's a masterpiece. I find all three of the protagonists, Ward Littell, Kemper Boyd, and Pete Bondurant, incredibly compelling, but I've got to admit that I identify especially with Littell because of his fondness for fine threads.

    Love your blog, it's great.

    1. Thanks for the kind words Patrick! And yea, Littell might be my favorite of three. He's one of the more vulnerable Ellroy characters.

  2. Great review of a complex novel! I recall thinking Ellroy couldn't improve on the BLACK DAHLIA/LA CONFIDENTIAL/BIG NOWHERE/WHITE JAZZ streak, all of which I read in the early and mid '90s. When this one came out, I was a little meh about the JFK/Bay of Pigs/Hoover angle--I loved all the LA '40s & '50s noir he'd been doing up till then. Turns out, AMERICAN TABLOID was even better! Totally surprised me. A masterpiece. Wow I should reread it...


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