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Crime Wave: Reportage and Fiction from the Underside of L.A.

Crime Wave: Reportage and Fiction from the Underside of L.A.

by James Ellroy, Art Cooper (Introduction)

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Los Angeles.  In no other city do sex, celebrity, money, and crime exert such an irresistible magnetic field.  And no writer has mapped that field with greater savagery and savvy than James Ellroy.  With this fever-hot collection of reportage and short fiction, he returns to his native habitat and portrays it as a smog-shrouded


Los Angeles.  In no other city do sex, celebrity, money, and crime exert such an irresistible magnetic field.  And no writer has mapped that field with greater savagery and savvy than James Ellroy.  With this fever-hot collection of reportage and short fiction, he returns to his native habitat and portrays it as a smog-shrouded netherworld where"every third person is a peeper, prowler, pederast, or pimp."

From the scandal sheets of the 1950s to this morning's police blotter, Ellroy reopens true crimes and restores human dimensions to their victims.  Sublimely, he resurrects the rag Hush-Hush magazine.  And in a baroquely plotted novella of slaughter and corruption he enlists the forgotten luminaries of a lost Hollywood.  Shocking, mesmerizing, and written in prose as wounding as an ice pick, Crime Wave is Ellroy at his best.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the best Amercan writers of our time." —Los Angeles Times

"A blood poet who writes as chain saws crank, Ellroy has vigorously redefined the well-shadowed turf of contemporary crime fiction." —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Nobody in this generation matches the breadth and depth of James Ellroy's way with noir." —The Detroit News

"His spare noir style . . . hits like a cleaver but . . . is honed like a scalpel." —Chicago Tribune

Greg Bottoms
Crime Wave is the perfect introduction to Ellroy's work for the uninitiated. All the old obsessions are here: celebrity, smooth gangsters, his dead mother, sex crimes and, yes, Howard Hughes and Frank Sinatra. For the true Ellroy fan, this book is all the best B-sides collected.
Gadfly Magazine
Entertainment Weekly
Read together, the pieces have the explosive effect of an AK-47.
Kimberly Conniff
Ellroy's style is brash, staccato, and not for the weak hearted or moral minded. But his tightly wound prose makes for a captivating read. —Brill's Content
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ellroy's obsessions--Tinseltown tabloid sleaze and his mother's murder--have fueled his writing and provided readers with countless indelible images, reams of trademark stuttergun prose and at least two killer books, L.A. Confidential and My Dark Places. This collection of 11 pieces of fiction and reportage, all previously published in GQ magazine, isn't essential Ellroy, but newcomers contemplating a tentative first dip might find it a fine place to start. The powerfully frank "My Mother's Killer" evolved into My Dark Places, and "Body Dumps" and "Glamour Jungle" both explore LAPD investigations into crimes similar to the death of Ellroy's mother in 1958, when he was 10. Two tales feature the investigative reporting of Hush-Hush magazine, always dedicated to digging the dirt and awesomely addicted to alliteration. Real-life accordionist Dick Contino has several capers of his own and gets to ingest illegal drugs, whack a few lowlifes and hang with Sammy Davis Jr. Ellroy also tackles O.J. Simpson's case, his own high school reunion and the making of the film L.A. Confidential. For some reason, his editor at GQ balked at letting the "Demon Dog of American Literature" loose on Bill and Monica. We surely missed out on a whole sackful of sleazy stuff there. Author tour. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In Ellroy's crime novels (L.A. Confidential, Mysterious, 1990), Los Angeles of the 1940s and 1950s is not the city of angels but "a smog-shrouded netherworld... [where] every third person was a peeper, prowler, pederast, poon stalker, panty sniffer, prostitute, pillhead, or pimp." This collection of journalism and short stories, first published in GQ magazine between 1993 and 1998, reflects Ellroy's fascination with L.A's seamy side, an obsession that grew out of his mother's unsolved murder. "My mother's death corrupted and emboldened my imagination," he writes in "Body Dumps," an investigation in terse police-blotter prose of the second unsolved homicide in the history of El Monte, CA. The first had been of Geneva Hilliker Ellroy, 15 years earlier. Included here is the account of that crime, "My Mother's Killer," later expanded into the powerful My Dark Places (LJ 11/15/96). Scandal-plagued Hollywood is the focus of the fictional "Hush-Hush," "Tijuana, Mon Amour," and "Hollywood Shakedown," orgies of hard-boiled alliterations ("A sweaty swish with the shakes"), surreal violence, and black humor. Ellroy fans will lap this up.--Wilda Williams, "Library Journal"
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of disparate pieces all previously published in GQ, by a haunted master of the hard-boiled Los Angeles detective genre (L.A. Confidential, 1990; The Black Dahlia, 1987; etc.). Part one, titled "Unsolved," groups three pieces, one of them an account of the murder of Ellroy's mother in El Monte, Calif., in 1958, which was later expanded to become My Dark Places (1996). This unsolved crime "corrupted and emboldened" his imagination, leading to a fascination with murder and police work and ultimately a career as a crime writer. The other two pieces recount the police investigation into El Monte's second unsolved murder 15 years later and the suspicious death of Karyn Kupcinet, a drug-addicted actress, in 1963. The two pieces of fiction in part two, "Getchell," are a hilarious tour de force of alliteration ("Matted hair and maggot mounds on a mauve rug. Blood blips on white walls and windowpanes"), narrated by Danny Getchell, editor of Hush-Hush, a sleazy Hollywood scandal magazine. They are swiftly plotted tales of extortion, sex, murder, and mayhem peopled by celebrities, cops, drug dealers, and assorted LA lowlifes. Part three, "Contino," focuses on Dick Contino, an accordion player of short-lived '50s fame. First is a nonfiction piece in which Ellroy tracks him down and interviews him, followed by a short story whose twisted, fast-paced plot features Contino, Getchell, and a full cast of Hollywood characters involved in double-dealing and violence. Part four, "L.A." is a mixed bag: a short and scathing piece on O.J. Simpson, written before his trial ended; a terse profile of the present-day L.A. County Sheriff's Homicide Bureau; a brief visit with Curtis Hanson, directorof the film version of L.A. Confidential; and Ellroy's reminiscences about his junior high school days in the early 1960s. While the last few pieces seem rather weak ones to end on, fans of Ellroy's punchy, macho style and his nightmarish vision of Los Angeles's seamy underside will find much to savor here. (Author tour)

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

The police reconstructed the crime.

My mother went out drinking Saturday night. She was seen at the Desert Inn bar in El Monte with a dark-haired white man and a blonde woman. My mother and the man left the bar around 10 P.M.

A group of Little Leaguers discovered the body. My mother had been strangled at an unknown location and dumped into some bushes next to the athletic field at Arroyo High School, a mile and a half from the Desert Inn.

She clawed her assailant's face bloody. The killer had pulled off one of her stockings and tied it loosely around her neck postmortem.

I went to live with my father. I forced some tears out that Sunday—and none since.

My flight landed early. L.A. looked surreal, and inimical to the myth town of my books.

I checked in at the hotel and called Sergeant Stoner. We made plans to meet the following day. He gave me directions to the Homicide Bureau; earthquake tremors had ravaged the old facility and necessitated a move.

Sergeant McComas wouldn't be there. He was recuperating from open-heart surgery, a classic police-work by-product.

I told Stoner I'd pop for lunch. He warned me that the file might kill my appetite.

I ate a big room-service dinner. Dusk hit—I looked out my window and imagined it was 1950-something.

I set my novel Clandestine in 1951. It's a chronologically altered, heavily fictionalized account of my mother's murder. The story details a young cop's obsession: linking the death of a woman he had a one-night stand with to the killing of a redheaded nurse in El Monte. The supporting cast includes a 9-year-old boy very much like I was at that age.

I gave the killer my father's superficial attributes and juxtaposed them against a psychopathic bent. I have never understood my motive for doing this.

I called the dead nurse Marcella De Vries. She hailed from my mother's hometown: Tunnel City, Wisconsin.

I did not research that book. Fear kept me from haunting archives and historical sites. I wanted to contain what I knew and felt about my mother. I wanted to acknowledge my blood debt and prove my imperviousness to her power by portraying her with coldhearted lucidity.

Several years later, I wrote The Black Dahlia. The title character was a murder victim as celebrated as Jean Ellroy was ignored. She died the year before my birth, and I understood the symbiotic cohesion the moment I first heard of her.

The Black Dahlia was a young woman named Elizabeth Short. She came west with fatuous hopes of becoming a movie star. She was undisciplined, immature, and promiscuous. She drank to excess and told whopping lies.

Someone picked her up and tortured her for two days. Her death was as hellishly protracted as my mother's was gasping and quick. The killer cut her in half and deposited her in a vacant lot twenty miles west of Arroyo High School.

The killing is still unsolved.

Meet the Author

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948.  His L. A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L. A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international bestsellers.  His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine's Novel of the Year for 1995; his memoir My Dark Places was Time magazine Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.  Ellroy is a Writer at Large for GQ.

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