Wednesday, August 17, 2016


*Book 2 in the Underworld, U.S.A. Trilogy*
"You never know when you might rub shoulders with history."
Well here it is, the book that ends my A grade streak with James Ellroy's books. But it's definitely not a bad book, just not as impressively crafted as the others and much more difficult to read.

John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, all assassinated within five years, all by lone gunmen who all claimed to not be the only ones involved. Coincidence? James Ellroy thinks not, and just as in the stellar American Tabloid, he deconstructs the turbulent 1960's and rewrites his own version of American history during that time, leading up to the deaths of RFK and MLK. Picking up immediately after the JFK assassination at the end of Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand follows our characters cleaning up after the killing that has shaken the country to its core and they struggle to define their roles in the history being made. Pete Bondurant dedicates himself to staying useful and to mending his fraying relationship to the Mob and the CIA, dreaming of rekindling his Anti-Communist glory days that led up to the Cuban crisis, while Ward Littell uses all the skills he's learned from Kemper Boyd, dangerously juggling alliances with everyone from the Mob, Howard Hughes, the FBI, and the Civil Rights movement, and at the same time feeling increasing guilt with his role in a rising number of conspiracies. Debuting into this mess is Wayne Tedrow Jr., a Las Vegas cop struggling to avoid following in his racist father's footsteps, but tragic circumstances allow him to embrace the darkness within. And looming over everything is J. Edgar Hoover, the Emperor Palpatine of the Ellroy galaxy, increasingly unhinged, crafting conspiracies from behind a desk, wire-tapping every room in the country, struggling to make the country great again.

One of the things that made me fall in love with Ellroy's work is his ability to pull together an immense encyclopedia of material and, through the use of some black magic, craft these tight tales and characters that are engaging and fully memorable. And though his past five masterpieces that I've read haven't been short, this is the first of his work that I actually think is too long. And Ellroy takes his prose-style to the extreme here and that doesn't help. It's exhausting and many times tedious, and there are whole parts that I don't think were all that necessary; the Vietnam storyline in particular didn't really amount to much or affect much of anything. I wish that Ellroy spent less time on that and more time really fleshing out the character arcs, which weren't as finely tuned as in his previous novels. I wanted to feel the conflict in Ward Littell more as he feels the pull of the Left even though he tries so hard to be part of the Right. His story could've been the most fascinating. I wanted to further explore Wayne Junior's acceptance and rationalization of his racism. While all of these ideas were great, I just wish they were fleshed out more.

But the book is still an Ellroy book and like most of his work, it's an epic that stands out in a crowded field of fiction. There are times when the declarative sentence style really shines, as in a chapter where Littell witnesses firsthand the horrors that haunt the civil rights movement. It was also great catching up with old characters from previous books, or witnessing infamous history from a different perspective, like the JFK assassination clean-up, Sonny Liston's alleged Outfit ties, the plots to discredit Dr. King, or the recruitment of both Sirhan Sirhan and James Earl Ray. There were times when the book hovered around an A-, but alas I have to settle on a B-. Hopefully the next book I read from him is back to the A-quality I've come to expect!


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