It all begins with a fairly routine stakeout of a pharmacy by the LAPD's only Japanese-American officer on December 6th, 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. From there, James Ellroy's Perfidia reveals sides of the City of the Angels never disclosed in visitor's guides. The novel is told from the perspectives of four different characters: that of the aforementioned police officer; a restless, adventuring dilettante woman; real-life LAPD police legend William Parker; and Dudley Smith, one of several characters who has appeared in Ellroy's seven previous L.A. and Underworld novels. A rich panoramic novel from an author who can be justly compared to both Thomas Pynchon and Raymond Chandler.
Perfidiaby James Ellroy
AN NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
It is December 6, 1941. America stands at the brink of World War II. Last hopes for peace are shattered when Japanese squadrons bomb Pearl Harbor. Los Angeles has been a haven for loyal Japanese-Americans—but now, war fever and race hate grip the city and the Japanese internment/b>
AN NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
It is December 6, 1941. America stands at the brink of World War II. Last hopes for peace are shattered when Japanese squadrons bomb Pearl Harbor. Los Angeles has been a haven for loyal Japanese-Americans—but now, war fever and race hate grip the city and the Japanese internment begins.
The hellish murder of a Japanese family summons three men and one woman. William H. Parker is a captain on the Los Angeles Police Department. He’s superbly gifted, corrosively ambitious, liquored-up, and consumed by dubious ideology. He is bitterly at odds with Sergeant Dudley Smith—Irish émigré, ex-IRA killer, fledgling war profiteer. Hideo Ashida is a police chemist and the only Japanese on the L.A. cop payroll. Kay Lake is a twenty-one-year-old dilettante looking for adventure. The investigation throws them together and rips them apart. The crime becomes a political storm center that brilliantly illuminates these four driven souls—comrades, rivals, lovers, history’s pawns.
Perfidia is a novel of astonishments. It is World War II as you have never seen it, and Los Angeles as James Ellroy has never written it before. Here, he gives us the party at the edge of the abyss and the precipice of America’s ascendance. Perfidia is that moment, spellbindingly captured. It beckons us to solve a great crime that, in its turn, explicates the crime of war itself. It is a great American novel.
Ellroy launches his second L.A. Quartet with a sprawling, uncompromising epic of crime and depravity, with admirable characters few and far between. The action spans about three weeks during December 1941, opening the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor with the deaths of four members of the Watanabe family, who were possibly victims of a ritual murder-suicide. A note left at the scene written in Japanese, disclaiming responsibility for a “looming apocalypse,” suggests foreknowledge of the attack. The investigation and its ramifications are explored from the perspectives of the LAPD’s Japanese crime-scene specialist Hideo Ashida; William Parker, the future LAPD head; and two figures familiar from Ellroy’s earlier books—Dudley Smith, a murderous and bent cop, and the enigmatic Kay Lake, who’s roped into going undercover in L.A.’s communist community. Cynical schemes to profit from the planned internment of the Japanese may have played a part in the killings as well. This is as good a sample of Ellroy as any for newcomers, and old hands will find new perspectives on old characters intriguing. Author tour. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Associates. (Sept.)
“A return to the scene of Ellroy’s greatest success and a triumphant return to form. . . . His character portrayals have never been more nuanced or—dare we say it—sympathetic. . . . A disturbing, unforgettable, and inflammatory vision of how the men in charge respond to the threat of war. It’s an ugly picture, but just try looking away.”
—Booklist, starred review
“A sprawling, uncompromising epic of crime and depravity.”
Though it pivots on the Pearl Harborattack, this worm's-eye view from thoroughly corrupt Los Angeles is a war novellike no other.It's complicated, and the author (TheHilliker Curse, 2010, etc.) wouldn't have it any other way. There's notelling the good guys from the bad in Ellroy's Los Angeles, because there areno good guys. The major distinction between cops and criminals is that theformer have the power to frame the latter and kill the innocent with impunity,which they (or at least some) do without conscience or moral compunction, oftenin complicity with the government and even the Catholic Church. With hisoutrageously oversized ambition, Ellroy has announced that this sprawling butcompelling novel is the beginning of a Second L.A. Quartet, which will coverthe city during World War II and serve as a prequel to his L.A. Quartet, hismost powerful and popular fiction, which spans the postwar decade. Thus, itincludes plenty of characters who appear in other Ellroy novels, sowing theseeds of their conflicts and corruption. On the eve of Pearl Harbor, the fourcorpses of a Japanese family are discovered in what appears to be a gruesomeritual suicide. It seems they had advance knowledge of the attack (which, bythe end of the novel, appears to have been the worst-kept secret in history).The investigation, or coverup, pits Sgt. Dudley Smith, full of charm but devoidof scruples ("I am in no way constrained by the law," he boasts), against Capt.William Parker, who's plagued by demons of alcoholism, faith and ambition (andwho is one of the real-life characters fictionalized in a novel where BetteDavis plays a particularly sleazy role). Caught between the rivalry of the twoare a young police chemist of Japanese descent and a former leftist callgirl-turned-informant. The plot follows a tick-tock progression over the courseof three weeks, in which "dark desires sizzle" and explode with a furiousclimax.Ellroy is not only back in form—he'sraised the stakes.
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Read an Excerpt
KAY LAKE’S DIARY
Los Angeles, December 7, 1941
Sunday brunch with Elmer and Brenda. Decorous, save for the talk.
Brenda owns a lovely home in Laurel Canyon. The furnishings can be seen in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Harry Cohn enjoys Brenda’s girls and gave her free run of the Columbia warehouse.
A Mexican maid laid out huevos rancheros. Elmer mixed gin fizzes. Gary Cooper fucked Barbara Stanwyck on the couch I was perched on. Brenda swore that the rumor was true.
I felt disembodied. It was lack of sleep more than shock over what I’d heard at City Hall. Lee Blanchard, Ben Siegel and Abe Reles. Captain William H. Parker’s belief that I would now be ripe for entrapment. He held me to be a woman who would stand up for her man and do anything to cover his misdeeds. He was gravely mistaken there.
Elmer said, “Lee caught a squawk with the Dudster. It’s all over the air. Four Japs in Highland Park.”
Brenda dosed her eggs with hot sauce. “You go straight to shop- talk.”
Elmer said, “A good host plays to his guests, honey. Shoptalk is the only sort of talk that Miss Katherine Lake enjoys.”
I laughed and picked at my food. Brenda and Elmer were nearly ten years older than I. They were professionals; I was a cop’s quasi- girlfriend. The disparity rankled. We all went back to Bobby De Witt and the Boulevard-Citizens job. Open secrets and unspoken truths began germinating there. I wanted to peddle myself to wash the stink of Bobby off of me; Brenda refused to let me do it. She said, “You live by these crazy-girl notions you get from books and movies. I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I let you take that nonsense too far.”
Elmer handed me a cocktail. I wondered how up-to-date he was on Lee and Ben Siegel. “Bugsy” is now ensconced in a “penthouse” suite at the Hall of Justice jail. Sheriff’s deputies serve as valets, flunkies and chauffeurs for visiting starlets. Velvet curtains provide privacy for Ben and his overnight guests. His release is imminent. Abe Reles’ “swan dive” scotched the prosecution’s case against him.
Elmer smiled and waggled his cigar stub. We possess an odd telepathy and often seem to know what the other is thinking. It always pertains to “shoptalk.”
He said, “Lee paid off his chit with Benny Siegel.”
I said, “Yes, I figured it out.”
Brenda crushed her cigarette on a bread plate. “Tell all, honey. Don’t be a C.T.”
I said, “No, your lover goes first.”
Elmer sprawled in a chair and grabbed Brenda. She fell into his lap and went Whoops! He said, “Thad Brown drove Dudley Smith and Lee to Union Station. He read the papers a few days later and put it together.”
Brenda said, “How’d you figure it out?”
I made that zip-the-lips gesture. Elmer said, “Give, sister.” Brenda said, “Don’t be a C.T.”
I played coy. “There’s a Traffic captain who knows a lot about Lee.”
Elmer draped an arm around Brenda. “How do you know that?”
“Because Captain William H. Parker is courting me.”
Brenda hooted. “Honey, that sanctimonious son of a bitch does not court women in any kind of classic sense.”
I lit a cigarette. “You mean he doesn’t take bribes, beat confessions out of suspects, or screw your girls in the back of Mike Lyman’s Grill, where I’m meeting him at 1:00.”
Brenda looked aghast. Elmer looked flabbergasted. He said, “Kay, how do you know that Whiskey Bill Parker knows a lot about Lee?”
I blew an imperiously high smoke ring. “Because Parker is courting and coercing me. Because he has me transcribing wire recordings at City Hall before he tells me his play. Because you, Brenda and Lee had a very injudicious conversation on August 14 of ’39. You discussed your ‘service,’ the Boulevard-Citizens robbery and Lee’s debt to Ben Siegel. Elmer, you actually said, ‘If you owe Ben, he makes you kill somebody for him.’ ”
Elmer bolted his drink. Brenda waved mock wolfsbane.
I said, “Do you think that William H. Parker is incapable of extrapolating and reaching the conclusion that Lee and Dud- ley Smith killed Abe Reles? Do you think that William H. Parker doesn’t know that half of the Detective Bureau phones are tapped? Do you honestly think that you’re as smart as William H. Parker?”
Brenda fished a pack of cigarettes from Elmer’s coat pocket. “I can’t believe it. You honest to God like that son of a bitch.”
I felt myself blush. Elmer said, “No more calls from City Hall.”
Brenda lit a cigarette and blew her own high ring. “Gossip always comes in droves, Citizens. One of our girls picked up a tip from a G-man she tricked with. Some fellow named Ward Littell.”
Elmer said, “Give, sister. Who’s the C.T. now?”
Brenda said, “The Feds are going after the Department, strictly on the phone taps. Art Hohmann snitched the listening posts and the whole kaboodle.”
I said, “I destroyed that recording I described to you.”
Brenda said, “There’s oodles more, Citizen. Can you recall what you said on any given phone call from two years ago? Uh-uh, you can’t.”
Elmer cracked his knuckles. “I’ll tell Jack Horrall. He’ll pull the wires with the good dirt, and leave the Feds the pablum.”
I heard radio buzz next door. An announcer was almost shouting. The noise was high-decibeled and insistent.
Brenda climbed off Elmer’s lap and smoothed out her dress. She said, “Sweetie, please set Sister Lake straight on Whiskey Bill.”
Elmer leaned toward me. “Don’t hold no goodwill for that Pope- loving bastard,” he said. “He’s as ruthless as Dudley Smith, he was bone-dirty with Jim Davis, he’ll get the Chief’s job come hell or high water and take the Department down out of spite if it don’t fall his way. He uses people and tosses them away like fucking Kleenex. He’s a hatchet man, an extortionist and a fucking prig who gets shit- faced drunk, talks to God and moves his lips while he does it. He ran the ‘Bum Blockade’ for Two-Gun, he shackled Okies in the back of freight cars and sent them off to the lettuce fields up in Kern County, where the goddamn farm bosses paid Davis a buck a man a day. He ran bag to the Mexican Staties back when Carlos Madrano and Davis were supplying wetbacks to every Jap farm between here and Oxnard. You run, sister. Whatever that man has planned for you ain’t nothing you’d ever want for yourself.”
Brenda said, “Amen.” That radio blasted. I didn’t want to address Elmer’s pitch. I walked to the window and glanced out.
A man next door saw me. Our windows were wide open. His radio was earsplitting. He reached over and turned it off.
He said, “The Japs bombed Pearl Harbor.”
Meet the Author
James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. He is the author of the L.A. Quartet: The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz, and the Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy: American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood’s A Rover. These seven novels have won numerous honors and were international best sellers.
Perfidia is the first novel of the Second L.A. Quartet, Ellroy’s fictional history of Los Angeles during World War II. The design of this extended work is unprecedented. Ellroy will take characters from the original quartet and trilogy, set between 1946 and 1972, and detail their lives as significantly younger people. Ellroy currently lives in Los Angeles.
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Another Ellroy tour de force. Can you handle 700 pages of amazing staccato writing style and intricate crime vectors interwoven with a wide variety of characters and sizzling action? If so then pick up Ellroy's latest. Recent critical reviews have been all over the place with most considering this his best book so far. You got to hand it to the author, he steps out where few men (or women) care to venture: the seedy, violent world of Los Angeles, California. This volume takes place right at the start of World War II with the war hysteria and anti-Japanese racial hatred engendered by the sneak attack by Imperial Japan against the US at Pear Harbor. I leave it to the reader's own imagination to contemplate how author Ellroy develops and maintains his hectic adventure story. Opium smoking, racial bigotry in the language characters use, killing in all sorts of ways, weird concepts in eugenics and cosmetic surgery, imaginary couplings with real life actresses and other celebrities, etc etc. It is all in this book and more. Just read this description by a rich Hollywood leftist female of a Midwestern girl seeking adventure and love in LA: "Claire thought you possessed stunning artistry, but no character or conviction." And they liked each other. You gotta love it. I highly recommend this book and all the author's other 18 works.
This book is stupid
An endless series of terse sentences, many of which do little to advance the excellent, but meandering, plot. This book would have been vastly improved by cutting the number of pages in half.
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