Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book review: White Jazz by James Ellroy

The fourth and final installment in James Ellroy's epic L.A. Quartet is one of his bleakest titles (and that is really saying something) but overcomes this with a rollicking and jittery energy that never lets up. Police lieutenant Dave Klein is stuck between a rock and a hard place: he's murdered a suspect, one of many crimes he has committed in the line of duty. The federal prosecutor is bearing down, threatening to prosecute him unless he rolls over on corrupt LAPD colleagues. In the midst of this, Klein becomes obsessed with the break in and animal mutilation at the home of a family colluding with drug dealers and the LAPD, a case that puts him the the cross-hairs of the cops and the crooks. This is one of Ellroy's most complex novels, drawing on characters from past novels and introducing one that would be critical in his following Underworld USA cycle of novels. His version of Los Angeles is unrepentantly dark: everybody is on the take, everyone is a potential killer or victim. In this world of predators and prey, Klein has only one goal - to stay alive. Despite the darkness and complexity of the world he has created, Ellroy remains absolutely fascinating to read. He tells a story that never stops for breath; in clipped sentences that ring out like machine gun fire. Especially fascinating for me was the way jazz was one the periphery of the novel throughout. Ellroy, a classical music snob of some repute, knows his jazz well, setting one scene at a club with Art Pepper on the stage and others where the lonely detective sits on stakeouts listening to bebop on the radio. Simultaneously fascinating and repugnant, it's classic Ellroy. White Jazz -

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