The second installment of James Ellroy’s second LA Quartet (the first was set in the late ’40s through the late ’50s, the second began in early December 1941), takes up where 2014’s Perfidia left off (late December 1942). It follows the sordid professional and personal lives of a handful of lead characters, including policemen Dudley Smith and Elmer Jackson, and forensic specialists Hideo Ashida and Joan Conville, as they try to advance their own selfish interests against the backdrop of one of the most turbulent times in US history.
As such, it deals with myriad topics, including greed, corruption, loyalty, honor, love, hubris, world war, the US internment of Japanese citizens, local politics, frame-ups and setups, gold heists, and murder. Its scope is vast (Ellroy again sees fit to include a listing of dramatis personae to help the audience keep track), yet it boasts an intimacy that will leave some readers feeling as if they need to shower. The prose is tight, tense, and terse, never tedious, often displaying the author’s affinity for alliteration. In other words, quintessential Ellroy.
At this point in his career, reviews of Ellroy’s works tend to focus on his impressive canon, rather than on his current book. His body of work remains a wonder to this reviewer: his voice distinct and unforgettable, his characters sometimes pathetic, bordering on loathsome, yet capable of showing great nobility, making their way as best they can, victims of their past, often victimized by their current circumstances. They inhabit a dark, dark world, one which, while worth visiting, is only palatable or tolerable for a few days every couple of years. It’s Ellroy’s exquisite talent, and seemingly his heavy burden, that he is so fit by nature to chronicle that world’s sordid, secret history.