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In the tradition of Chandler and Wambaugh, the author of The Black Dahlia brilliantly evokes the dark underside of Los Angeles. When P.I. Fritz Brown undertakes an investigation into blood money changing hands at a golf course, he plunges into a nightmare of arson, corruption and porn. Reissue.
Business was good. It was the same thing every summer. The smog and heat rolled in, blanketing the basin; people succumbed to torpor and malaise; old resolves died; old commitments went unheeded. And I profited: my desk was covered with repo orders, ranging in make and model from Datsun sedan to Eldorado rag-top, and in territory from Watts to Pacoima. Sitting at my desk, listening to the Beethoven Violin Concerto and drinking my third cup of coffee, I calculated my fees, less expenses. I sighed and blessed Cal Myers and his paranoia and greed. Our association dates back to my days with Hollywood Vice, when we were both in trouble and I did him a big favor. Now, years later, his guilty noblesse oblige supports me in something like middle-class splendor, tax free.
Our arrangement is simple, and a splendid hedge against inflation: Cal's down payments are the lowest in L.A., and his monthly payments the highest. My fee for a repossession is the sum of the owner's monthly whip-out. For this Cal gets the dubious satisfaction of having a licensed private investigator do his ripoffs, and implicit silence on my part regarding all his past activities. He shouldn't worry. I would never rat on him for anything, under any circumstances. Still, hedoes. We never talk about these things; our relationship is largely elliptical. When 'I was on the sauce, he felt he had the upper hand, but now that I'm sober he accords me more intelligence and cunningness than I possess.
I surveyed the figures on my scratch pad: 11 cars, a total of $1,881.00 in monthlies, less 20 percent or $376.20 for my driver. $1,504.80 for me. Things looked good. I took the record off the turntable, dusted it carefully, and replaced it in its sleeve. I looked at the Joseph Karl Stieler print on my living room wall: Beethoven, the greatest musician of all time, scowling, pen in hand, composing the Missa Solemnis, his face alight with inword heroism.
I called Irwin, my driver, and told him to meet me at my place in an hour and to bring coffee -- there was work on the line. He was grumpy until I mentioned money. I hung up and looked out my window. It was getting light. Hollywood, below me, was filling up with hazy sunshine. I felt a slight tremor: part caffeine, part Beethoven, part a last passage of night air. I felt my life was going to change.
It took Irwin forty minutes to make the run from Kosher Canyon. Irwin is Jewish, I'm a second generation German-American, and we get along splendidly; we agree on all important matters: Christianity is vulgar, capitalism is here to stay, rock and roll is evil, and Germany and Judaica, as antithetical as they may be, have produced history's greatest musicians. He beeped the horn, and I clipped on my holster and went outside.
Irwin handed me a large cup of Winchell's black and a bag of donuts as I got in the car beside him. I thanked him, and dug in. "Business first," I said. "We've got eleven delinquents. Mostly in South Central L.A. and the East Valley. I've got credit reports on all of them and the people all have jobs. I think we can hit one a day, early mornings at the home addresses. That will get you to work on time. What we don't snatch there, I'll work on myself. Your cut comes to three hundred seventy-six dollars and twenty cents, payable next time I see Cal. Today we visit Leotis McCarver at 6318 South Mariposa."
As Irwin swung his old Buick onto the Hollywood Freeway southbound, I caught him looking at me out of the corner of his eye and I knew he was going to say something serious. I was right. "Have you been all right, Fritz?" he asked. "Can you sleep? Are you eating properly?"
I answered, somewhat curtly, "I feel better in general, the sleep comes and goes, and I eat like a horse or not at all."
"How long's it been, now? Eight, nine months?"
"It's been exactly nine months and six days, and I feel terrific. Now let's change the subject." I hated to cut Irwin off, but I feel more comfortable with people who talk obliquely.
We got off the freeway around Vermont and Manchester and headed west to the Mariposa address. I checked the repo order: a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba, loaded. $185 a month. License number CTL 412. Irwin turned north on Mariposa, and in a few minutes we were at the 6300 block. I fished out my master keys and detached the '78 Chrysler's. 6318 was a two-story pink stucco multi-unit dump, ultra-modern twenty years ago, with side entrances, and an ugly schematic flamingo in black metal on the wall facing the street. The garage was subterranean, running back the whole length of the building.
Irwin parked in front. I handed him the original of the repo order and tucked the carbon into my back pocket. "You know the drill, Irwin. Stand by your car, whistle once if anyone enters the garage, twice if the fuzz show up. Be prepared to explain what I'm doing. Hold on to the repo order." Irwin knows the procedure as well as I do, but even after five years of legalized ripoffs, the whole deal still makes me nervous, and I repeat the instructions for luck. Strange things can happen, have happened, and the L.A.PD. is notoriously trigger-happy. Having been one of them, I know.
I dropped down into the garage. I expected it to be dark, but the morning sunshine reflecting off the windows of the adjacent apartments provided plenty of light. When I spotted CTL 412, the third car from the end, I started to laugh. Cal Myers was going to shit. Leotis McCarver was undoubtedly black, but his car was a full dress taco wagon: chopped, channeled, lowered, with a candy apple, lime-green . . .
Excerpted from Brown's Requiem by James Ellroy Copyright © 2006 by James Ellroy. Excerpted by permission.
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Wearing a beige cardigan and sporting round spectacles, James Ellroy looks about as dangerous as a college history professor. His spartan office (no computer or typewriter; he writes in longhand with a number two pencil) is in a Tudor-style home in an upscale suburb of Kansas City, Kansas, a long way from the Los Angeles jail cells he often inhabited during his teen years and early twenties. Ellroy, the author of L.A. Confidential and fourteen other books, is happily married, relaxed and calm. For a moment, it seems as if the self-professed "Demon Dog of American Literature" has been housebroken.
But when he leans forward, his brown eyes sighting in like the business end of a double-barreled shotgun, his six-foot-plus frame crowding in close to make a point, it's clear that anyone who doesn't want to get wounded better stay out of the line of fire.
Ellroy often punctuates his conversations with sound effects that are as sharp as the violence in his books. "Boom!" he says, tearing into a dissertation on his new novel, The Cold Six Thousand. "First two sentences of the book: 'They sent him to Dallas to kill a nigger pimp named Wendell Durfee. He wasn't sure he could do it.' What have you got? You've got a horrible situation. You've got a young man of great ambivalence, you've got 'nigger' in the first sentence. That's a warning: You don't like it? You want PC? Get yourself another book, 'cause you ain't gonna find it here."
That's more like it. That's "The Dog" (as his close friends call him) that longtime fans and readers know. Ellroy, fifty-two, is famous for his readings and appearances, where he's been known to call his readers and fans perverts and panty sniffers. His onstage high jinks have ranged from howling out loud to simulating masturbation. In the past, worries about offending potential readers were dismissed with offhanded and profane remarks. And his telephone answering machine greeted people by announcing him as the "Demon Dog of Crime Fiction." Eventually, the greeting was modified to the "Demon Dog of American Literature." These days, it's simply, "This is James Ellroy. Leave a message after the tone."
Perhaps with literary legacies in mind, Ellroy seems to be more reticent about his larger-than-life public persona. He has been purposefully separating himself from the constraints of genre fiction, stating that he is trying to destroy genre strictures and that he'll never write another book that can be categorized as crime fiction. "If you have to subdivide me as a novelist," he says, "I would say I'm a historical novelist."
Ellroy's own history reads like something out of one his novels: His mother, whom he despised, was murdered when he was only ten years old; he spent years popping drugs, living on the streets, and committing petty crimes; and finally he cleaned himself up, turning to writing as he supported himself caddying at posh L.A. country clubs.
Ellroy detailed those years and the search for his mother's killer in his candid 1996 memoir, My Dark Places. Since he debuted with Brown's Requiem in 1981, praise about the writer has come fast and furious. His early work was influenced by Dashiell Hammett and Joseph Wambaugh, and though he adopted the noir style, he blended in the social history of L.A. He calls himself a Brahms to Don DeLillo's Beethoven. Others might compare his staccato sentences and no-frills style of writing to the down-and-dirty style of Kansas City jazz. (Ellroy, who has been married to writer Helen Knode for nine years, claimed Kansas City as his new hometown after a visit to meet his future mother-in-law.)
The tough, punchy style that is Ellroy's trademark has an interesting origin. Nat Soble, Ellroy's longtime friend and agent, was ready to deliver the manuscript of L.A. Confidential in 1989 when Soble got a call from an editor at Warner Books telling him it had to be cut by 30 percent -- sight unseen -- because the size would prohibit any profits, even in paperback. When Soble made a joking remark about cutting out all the small words (ands buts), Ellroy was struck by lightning. He took the manuscript home that night and returned with a leaner book and a brand-new style. "All of a sudden we had this incredible style that matched the violence of the book," Soble recalls. "And James has never looked back since. That editor, unbeknownst to her, really helped crystallize the style that started with L.A. Confidential."
But what crystallized the Demon Dog persona? Is it all an act, or is it a vestige of days spent guarding himself from more hurt? That's anyone's guess. But Bill Stoner, the former homicide detective from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Unsolved Office whom Ellroy enlisted to help with his memoir, says Ellroy's public persona is at odds with his real personality. "When I first met him, he was so cavalier about his mother's death and his relationship with her -- I wasn't sure I even wanted to work with the guy! I could just see him going up to some eighty-year-old woman and saying, 'Hey bitch, give it up!' As it turned out, he was as gracious as can be. Looking back, in retrospect, I can see he was in shock. And as the investigation went on, I slowly watched a man fall in love with his mother. We grew closer and closer, almost like brothers. He's one of the most generous and loving people I've ever met."
Kansas City next-door neighbor Lee Major thinks the Demon Dog is just shtick, that his friend Ellroy is "a pretty straitlaced type of guy." Soble sees it a little differently. "That is his persona," he says. "If there is anything that can be done to improve his book, he will do it. If there is anything that can be done to help sell his book, he will do it." Soble believes that Ellroy is like "the underdog trying to get greater acceptance from the reading public."
"It's an expression of natural exuberance," Ellroy says. "Since I know how to perform in front of audiences, and since I'm an accomplished public speaker, then I owe it to the people who came to see me, who came out on a cold winter night or a hot summer night to get their books signed, to give them a bit of a show. Doing this disingenuous number where you hem and haw and you play inarticulate, and you stumble over your words and you do everything in your power to appear meek and humble, just isn't me. I'd rather go in there and burn the audience down, give them something to go home with." (Dorman T. Shindler)
Posted October 15, 2012
Posted March 15, 2012
No text was provided for this review.