Perfidia

Perfidia

by James Ellroy

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Overview

NATIONAL BESTSELLER     
AN NPR BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR


Los Angeles. December, 1941. America stands at the brink of World War II. War fever and racial hatred grip the city.
 
The hellish murder of a Japanese family summons three men and one woman. LAPD captain William H. Parker is 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.
 
Here, Ellroy gives us the party at the edge of the abyss and the precipice of America’s ascendance. Perfidia is that moment, spellbindingly captured.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

A powerful roar of a story. . . . Wickedly elaborate, its plotting brilliant. . . . Kudos to Ellroy for elevating the crime genre.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Pure, unadulterated Ellroy and a darkly compelling deconstruction of the recent American past. . . . Perfidia shows us the war on the home front as we have never seen it before.” —The Washington Post
 
“[The first L.A. Quartet] made Ellroy America’s best crime novelist. . . . Perfidia represents new depth, scope, and craftsmanship in [his] canon. It is his finest work.” —Austin Chronicle
 
“Ellroy successfully spins a drug-alcohol-and-nefarious-deeds-fueled wartime web of double-dealing betrayal, insidious activities, and gruesome atrocities. . . . . It’s tough and ugly and infuriating—and relentlessly readable.” —The Boston Globe

“One of the great American writers of our time.” —Los Angeles Times

“A brilliant, breakneck ride. Nobody except James Ellroy could pull this off. He doesn’t merely write—he ignites and demolishes.”—Carl Hiaasen

“[Ellroy’s] style—jumpy, feverish, and anarchic—mirrors the world we enter. . . . [He] depicts with frightening authenticity how those innocent of crimes are knowingly framed in the interest of the almighty ‘greater good’.” —Dennis Lehane, The New York Times Book Review 

“Ellroy has a way of giving gravitas to ugliness and making brutality beautiful. . . . To see him operating this way, full of power and totally in his comfort zone, is an awesome thing to behold.” —NPR/All Things Considered

“Ask me to name the best living novelist who’s fierce, brave, funny, scatological, beautiful, convoluted, and paranoid . . . and it becomes simple: James Ellroy. If insanity illuminated by highly dangerous strokes of literary lightning is your thing, then Ellroy’s your man.” —Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly

“Grittier than Chandler, more operatic than Hammett, and more violent even than Cain. . . . Ellroy whittles [his characters’] thoughts and actions into sentences the way others do shivs—lean, brutalist, and intended to puncture, to penetrate.” —Interview magazine

“It is welcome news that Ellroy’s latest effort, Perfidia, returns home, sliding in as a prequel to the L.A. Quartet, set in the previous decade. . . . He is driven by a paradoxical obsession: to keep on digging up dark memories of the city, in the hope of rising above the psychic traumas of the past—not reborn, but newly wise.” —The Atlantic

“If Ellroy’s bitter visions entice you, Perfidia will take you once again to the underbelly of American history. . . . You will dive into Perfidia with a shiver that is equal parts anticipation and fear—because you know it’s going to get very dark very fast. . . . Ellroy’s singular style has been described as jazzlike or telegraphic; here it is insomniac, hallucinogenic, nightmarish.” —Tampa Bay Times

“There has never been a writer like James Ellroy. . . . He has been making real a secret world behind the official history of America . . . and to enter it is to experience a vivid eyeball rush of recognition.” —The Telegraph (London)

“Perfidia
 brings the two sides of his work together: the period crime-writing of LA Quartet, with its highlighting of police misdemeanors, and the wider politico-historical concerns of his subsequent Underworld USA trilogy.” —The Guardian (London), “Essential New Fiction”

“A war novel like no other. . . . There's no telling the good guys from the bad in Ellroy’s Los Angeles, because there are no good guys. . . . Ellroy is not only back in form—he’s raised the stakes.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“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)

The New York Times Book Review - Dennis Lehane

In Dudley Smith, Ellroy has found the hellhound guide for his neon-noir Los Angeles underbelly…Smith casts the same shadow over Perfidia that Judge Holden cast over Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. He's writ large and writ evil, a monolith of corruption and utilitarian expediency. But unlike what Ellroy did with Smith's previous appearances, here he sets his sights, to varying degrees of success, on the devil's heart and the ways in which satanic charms often coexist with paternal benevolence. For Smith engenders loyalty as much as he does fear. In a world as sordid and chaotic as the one Ellroy depicts, the simple purity of Smith's evil attains a kind of nobility.

Kirkus Reviews

★ 2014-07-01
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307946676
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/07/2015
Pages: 720
Sales rank: 240,117
Product dimensions: 5.15(w) x 7.96(h) x 1.23(d)

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 14
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.”

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