Skip to content

The Ticket Out by Helen Knode – Review

May 23, 2020

Ann Whitehead is a film critic for a counter-culture rag in LA. What started as a dream job has become an unfulfilling nightmare. She has seen so many movies that the magic has gone. She has seen lives destroyed in pursuit of the Hollywood dream. Ann wants out, but the murder of a young film student, Greta Stenholm, will plunge her into the dark heart of the movie biz. Greta had been working on a script, now missing, about the real-life unsolved murder of the socialite Georgette Bauerdorf : ‘A Black Dahlia with class,’ quips one detective. Is this a case of murder imitating art?

Helen Knode is the ex-wife of crime novelist James Ellroy. Like Whitehead, Knode was a film critic for many years, writing reviews for the LA Weekly. She puts her inside knowledge of the film industry to good use. Greta Stenholm is loosely based on Kathryn Bigelow. Knode met Bigelow in 1989, when her directorial career was just taking off. Bigelow became the first woman to win a Best Director Academy Award in 2010 for The Hurt Locker. Bigelow won her Oscar for directing a film in the traditionally male-dominated war genre. As Knode puts it, ‘I think that what Bigelow wants, which is to be a female director of action, is strictly speaking impossible, given Hollywood’s gender categories.’

Whitehead has a similar drive to succeed in a man’s world. But to do it, and to solve Greta’s murder, she will have to work closely with LAPD detective Doug Lockwood. Lockwood has a bad rep for his role in the Burger King siege, a scandal which did about as much good for the LAPD’s image as the Rodney King or Rampart affairs. Whitehead is apprehensive around Lockwood at first. She’s the bohemian liberal and he’s a cop in the authoritarian LAPD, but it’s not long before an attraction develops. This might seem like a cliche, but Knode makes it believable and, more importantly, likeable. Knode’s ‘feminist noire’ has a healthy dose of hardboiled romance: ‘I am obsessed with romance and men and women and the female principle and the male principle and how in this day and age, romance seems to have turned into something like pathology. Nobody believes in it, and yet people are falling in love all the time.’

The thin line between love and hate in Ann and Doug’s relationship is mirrored by the film critic’s soured view of the movies. This is brought home beautifully when Whitehead reminisces about a trip to the Viennale film festival in 1993. She has a potential dream-come-true moment when she meets the renowned cinematographer John Alton. Alton’s unconventional style, such as ominous low camera shots, made him a legend to film noir buffs. By the time Whitehead meets Alton though he is a jaded nonagenarian completely bored with cinema:

Here was a guy, I thought, who’d worked for MGM in the 1920s; he’d grown up with the movies, he was as old as the movies almost. But he couldn’t have cared less about them. I pointed this out, and he agreed. He’d left Hollywood in the early ’60s because he was finished with pictures. I asked why. He said it was because pictures were bad. Why bad, I’d asked – in what way, bad?

We were sitting together at a small table. Alton had put both his hands on my forearm and he’d said, “There was no longer any Art.”

I first read The Ticket Out a few years ago. I reread it again recently as I felt drawn back to it with the rise of the MeToo movement. The novel is not about sexual abuse, but it brilliantly dissects show-business hypocrisy. Knode’s style is less outrageous than Ellroy’s, but it is just as gutsy, maybe even more so. After all, Ellroy is fond of portraying long-dead Hollywood figures from the 1940s and 50s who can’t call their lawyers and sue him from the afterlife. Knode has some thinly-veiled portrayals of Tinseltown’s living legends which are so scabrous that it will leave you shaking your head and asking – could she really mean that guy? I mentioned this to Knode once and her response was tantalising: ‘Sacred cows make for the tastiest hamburgers, Steve.’

The Ticket Out is a gripping noir thriller that will leave you wanting to read more about Hollyweird culture and the indomitable Ann Whitehead (fortunately for us, there is a sequel). By the time you get to the last page Knode will have you thinking that, in noir terms at least, John Alton may have been wrong – there still is Art.

100 British Crime Writers

May 6, 2020

100 British Crime Writers

This autumn sees the release of 100 British Crime Writers, an anthology of essays on the most iconic British scribes who ever turned their hand to writing crime and detective fiction. Edited by Esme Miskimmin and published as part of Palgrave Macmillan’s renowned Crime Files series, 100 British Crime Writers is a companion volume to 100 American Crime Writers which I edited.

I’m honoured to have worked as a contributor for 100 British Crime Writers which promises to be a valuable and comprehensive resource for any student, scholar or just plain fan of crime fiction.

And if you enjoy reading it, why not check out 100 American Crime Writers! It was published in 2012, got some great reviews and is still selling well

Here’s some more information on the book:

100 British Crime Writers explores a history of British crime writing between 1855 and 2015 through 100 writers, detailing their lives and significant writing and exploring their contributions to the genre. Divided into four sections: ‘The Victorians, Edwardians, and World War One, 1855-1918’; ‘The Golden Age and World War Two, 1919-1945’; ‘Post-War and Cold War, 1946-1989’; and ‘To the Millennium and Beyond, 1990-2015’, each section offers an introduction to the significant features of these eras in crime fiction and discusses trends in publication, readership, and critical response. With entries spanning the earliest authors of crime fiction to a selection of innovative contemporary novelists, this book considers the development and progression of the genre in the light of historical and social events.

Mr Campion’s Seance – Review

April 25, 2020

Albert Campion is one of the most beloved characters in the history of detective fiction. To write a Campion novel, and do justice to the character created by the great Margery Allingham, is no easy task. But Mike Ripley has risen to the occasion with Mr Campion’s Seance, the latest addition in the Campion series which he has brought back to life with a Lazarus-like effect. Other Campion titles by Ripley include Mr Campion’s Abdication, Mr Campion’s War and Mr Campion’s Visit. All of these novels have been officially sanctioned by the Margery Allingham Society as Ripley has proved adept at the cunning plots, cocktail wit and period detail which make the Campion novels so irresistible.

Mr Campion’s Seance is Ripley’s most ambitious novel yet with a narrative that stretches from the war-torn 1940s to the Swinging Sixties. In this novel we meet Evadne Childe, bestselling author of mystery fiction and Campion’s ‘godsibling’. The authoress has been offered gongs from, in no particular order, the Detection Club, Mystery Writers of America and Buckingham Palace. But the latter is less impressive in her eyes after The Beatles (who you shouldn’t listen to without wearing earmuffs) were appointed OBE’s in 1965.

Evadne might be in trouble. The murder of a Cockney/Maltese gangster named Tony Valetta is strikingly similar to a murder she described in one of her novels. Then, a robbery occurs which is almost identical, detail-by-detail, to a robbery from her fiction. Is Evadne being fitted up, or is she responsible for these dastardly crimes? Or is, as the title implies, someone taking their criminal orders from the spirit world?

Ripley gives the longstanding Allingham fans much of what they want from a Campion story – there is the tryptych of eccentric coppers – Stanislaus Oates, Freddie Yeo and Charles Luke – our amateur sleuth deals with. Then there is Campion’s indomitable manservant Magersfontein Lugg, a former burglar whose knowledge of the London Underworld is rivalled only by his familiarity with the capital city’s public houses. But while there are plenty of Allingham references, there are also many of the quintessential Mike Ripley bon mots which those of us who read the Ripster’s ‘Getting Away With Murder’column have come to love.

One is never sure when Ripley is toying with the reader. Is Evadne Childe a sly anagram I wonder? Or is it a reference to Robert Browning (there’s some discussion of Browning in the novel), whose poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came was a favourite of my undergrad days. One of Evadne’s ‘novels’ The Robbers Are Coming To Town was the provisional title of Allingham’s seminal work The Tiger in the Smoke.  Is Campion chasing his most elusive culprit yet – metafiction!

Amidst all the wit and wordplay, this is still a gripping detective story at the heart. I was interested to learn how the robbery in the novel was inspired by the Eastcastle Street robbery, which has been almost forgotten today but should be just as fascinating as the Great Train robbery to true crime buffs.

Mr Campion’s Seance is another wonderful addition to the series and a great way to ward off those lockdown blues. Highly recommended.

HRF Keating: A Life of Crime – Review

April 15, 2020

Henry ‘Harry’ Reymond Fitzwalter Keating was one of the most prolific and distinguished crime novelists and literary critics of the twentieth century. But by the time of his death in 2011 he was referring to himself as a ‘has-been’. This might seem difficult to believe now – Keating’s creation of Inspector Ghote is one of the most beloved of fictional detectives. So why did he end his days with this rather melancholy view of his achievements?

HRF Keating: A Life of Crime is the first biography of Keating and is also the literary debut of Keating’s widow, the actress Sheila Mitchell. Mitchell’s biography of Keating is an intimate and affectionate portrait of an author who achieved the elusive combination of literary acclaim and financial success. However, the final chapters are tinged with sadness. Not only because they deal with Keating’s declining health, but also his increasing despair at the slow death of publishing. His books got fewer and fewer print runs and were dogged by miniscule publicity budgets. But before we come to this somewhat downbeat ending, Mitchell skilfully and engagingly chronicles Keating’s education at Trinity College, the launch of his career in journalism and his early attempts at writing fiction.

Keating had a number of short stories and novels published before he hit the big time with his introduction of Inspector Ghote of the Bombay (now Mumbai) police in The Perfect Murder in 1964. Keating’s writing was praised for its rich in detail and accurate portrayal of India, but ironically he didn’t visit the country until about a decade after the first Ghote novel was published. He first travelled to India after he was invited as part of a publicity campaign by Air India. Ghote’s incisive intelligence and gentle, unassuming manner is credited with dispelling the stereotypical ‘Goodness Gracious Me’ humour about Indians which had been common at the time. Among his many other works Keating wrote science-fiction, a novel in verse and created the series character DCI Harriet Martens, but his first and true love on the page was always Inspector Ghote.

Mitchell’s portrayal of Keating is teeming with joyous little details. His preferred writing conditions were absolute silence, which must have been difficult to achieve as they raised four children together. His aversion to noise was such that he was practically traumatised after sitting through an overly loud production of a Tom Stoppard play. By temperament, Keating was the most English of writers. He was once mugged while walking near a dark canal and politely asked the assailant to give him his wallet back once he had removed the dosh, which the obliging mugger dutifully did.

Keating’s passing immediately launched a revival of interest in his work. Penguin reissued several Ghote novels in their Modern Classics series. Audiobooks of his novels, several narrated by Mitchell, have become popular. And more and more contemporary novelists have spoken out about their love of Keating’s work. It’s comforting to know that Keating was wrong to think of himself as a ‘has-been’. Interest in his work will continue to grow.

HRF Keating: A Life of Crime is a fine biography worthy of its illustrious subject.

 

James Ellroy and Fallen Angels: Since I Don’t Have You

April 6, 2020

Between the commercial failure of the first big-screen adaptation of a James Ellroy novel Blood on the Moon (as Cop in 1988) and the Oscar-winning success of L.A. Confidential in 1997, there was another Ellroy adaptation which has been unfairly forgotten today.

Since I Don’t Have You

Ellroy’s short story ‘Since I Don’t Have You’ was adapted as part of the Showtime noir anthology series Fallen Angels which was first broadcast in 1993. All six episodes of the first season are standalone narratives based on the work of legendary crime writers: Chandler, Woolrich, Thompson etc. Only two episodes were adapted from works by authors who were still alive at the time. ‘Dead End for Delia’ was adapted from a short story by William Campbell Gault, who was by that time an octogenarian (he died shortly after the series aired). The other living author was James Ellroy, who was only in his forties but had already established himself as the leading crime novelist of his generation.

Several L.A. Quartet characters appear in ‘Since I Don’t Have You’: Okie transplant to L.A. Turner ‘Buzz’ Meeks (Gary Busey) is working as a security boss and troubleshooter for Howard Hughes (Tim Matheson) and a bagman for Mickey Cohen (James Woods). He considers both his employers to be ‘world-class shitheels’. But Meeks owes money to the quick-tempered hoodlum Leotis, so he has no choice but to do what his bosses tell him and work his way out of a crippling debt. Both Hughes and Cohen have fallen for the same woman, Gretchen, and Meeks has to find her and bring her to a party thrown by schlocky grade-Z producer Sid Weinberg. Weinberg is carrying a torch for a starlet named Glenda Jensen who vanished into thin air fifteen years ago. Meeks finds himself in a dangerous conflict of interest and has to follow a trail of dead bodies before Gretchen makes her dazzling appearance at Weinberg’s Hollywood party.

Gary Busey as Buzz Meeks and James Woods as Mickey Cohen in Fallen Angels

‘Since I Don’t Have You’ is overtly comic, outrageous and packs in a lot of story into thirty minutes of television. It holds up fairly well, and is probably the best of the Ellroy TV adaptations. The first L.A. Confidential TV pilot filmed in 2003 is dismal, but that didn’t stop CBS ordering a new pilot in 2018 which has still not been aired. Adapting Ellroy for television has proved as difficult as adapting Ellroy for the big screen.

Fallen Angels

A second series of Fallen Angels followed in 1995. Looking at the two series as a whole, ‘Murder Obliquely’ is the most erotic story and Walter Mosley’s ‘Fearless’ is the bawdiest. ‘The Black Bargain’ tries to capture the surreal, nightmarish quality of Cornell Woolrich’s fiction but gets too heavy-handed with satanic symbolism. My favourite episode is probably ‘Fly Paper’. Adapted by Donald E Westlake from a short story by Dashiell Hammett: it is a gripping, fast-paced tale featuring a wonderfully hardboiled performance by Christopher Lloyd as the Continental Op. There are several other novelties of the show worth mentioning. A number of episodes were directed by Hollywood stars. Tom Hanks directed ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ and appears as a button man very similar to his later role as Sullivan in Road to Perdition. Tom Cruise gained the only directorial credit of his career on the show and it’s a belter of an episode. ‘The Frightening Frammis’ is adapted from a Jim Thompson tale and features Peter Gallagher as the wandering grifter Mitch Allison. Cruise alternates the tone of the episode between sinister and comic with directorial panache and it features a nice homage to noir classic Detour. Just imagine for a moment, if Cruise had turned to directing to salvage his reputation after the Scientology scandals of the early noughties rather than regurgitating the MI and Top Gun franchises.

A book companion to the TV series was published in 1993. It featured the original short stories that were adapted alongside the script for each episode. James Ellroy wrote the preface to the book. It’s a typically insightful piece of writing by Ellroy in which he diagnoses our ongoing fascination with noir as a form of Romantic escapism from the spiralling crime rates of contemporary life which are sensationally reported in the tabloid press:

Fallen Angels: an ambiguous title applicable to the characters who rage in these stories, their creators, and you, the audience – especially you, who share a bond with all of Hammett’s children.

You sense the darkness around you and want to know why. We have been haunted by that curiosity and wish to explore it with you for unfathomable personal motives and the near-paradoxical need to hold hands with a friend when night falls. You sense that the deepest human truths boil forth in fiction; we seek to render newscast body counts powerless through the alchemy of our horrific perceptions. We want to touch fire with you, to ensure both of us a tenuous safety from the flames.

Fallen Angels aired at a time when anthology series – Tales From The Crypt, The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone – were in vogue. But most were rooted in the sci-fi or horror genre. Fallen Angels was the only one, to my knowledge, to offer viewers the seductive solace of film noir. If you are struggling with the boredom and frustration of quarantine, made worse by the media-saturation of ‘newscast body counts’ then seek out the show. It is viewable on YouTube.

A quarter of a century has passed since Fallen Angels was first broadcast on television, but more than ever we need it to ensure ‘a tenuous safety from the flames’.

 

 

 

The Mystery of Jean Hilliker’s First Marriage – Solved

March 15, 2020

Jean Hilliker and the ‘Spalding Man’

Jean Hilliker

One of the most enduring mysteries of Jean Ellroy’s (nee Hilliker) life is her first marriage. When James Ellroy was re-investigating his mother’s murder in his memoir My Dark Places, he was stunned to discover that his mother had been married before she met his father Armand Ellroy. Ellroy found out about the marriage when he met Jean’s niece Janet Wagner Klock: ‘She said Aunt Jean was married once before. It was a very brief marriage. She was married to a young man named Spalding. He was an heir to the Spalding sporting goods fortune.’

Ellroy, along with his co-investigator Bill Stoner, looked into the claims, but they were never able to find a date or location of the wedding: ‘Jean moved to Los Angeles. She might have met the Spalding man there. They were married somewhere. It wasn’t Chicago. It wasn’t in LA County, Orange County, San Diego County, Ventura County, Las Vegas or Reno.’ After such an exhausting search Ellroy might have been tempted to believe Jean’s marriage to the Spalding man was a myth. However, partial confirmation was found as Jean and Armand’s 1947 marriage licence ‘stated that this was the second marriage for both parties.’

The Marriage of Jean Hilliker and Easton Ewing Spaulding

I can now reveal that the wedding took place in Yuma County, Superior Court on November 5, 1940. I have obtained a copy of the marriage licence. Jean was married to Easton Ewing Spaulding. Jean’s family got the Spalding/Spaulding names mixed up, but then the wedding took place in great secrecy: ‘Leoda (Jean’s sister) never met the Spalding man. Jean’s friends never met the Spalding man. Nobody knew his first name.’

This is what I have been able to find out about Easton E. Spaulding. I have taken a lot of this information from the book, The Spaulding Heritage, which was written by Jewell Spaulding Akey in 1970 and is now available online.

Easton was born in Springfield, Illinois, in 1902 to Albert Starr Spaulding and Nellie Locke Burrows. In 1908, Albert and Nellie moved their family to Long Beach, California. Nellie died in childbirth the same year. Albert Starr Spaulding had great success as a real-estate speculator in Los Angeles. He purchased and subdivided an area of land ‘between Sunset Boulevard and Fountain Avenue to the east of Fairfax Avenue.’ He used inventive methods to get potential buyers interested ‘Spaulding offered a free streetcar ride, lunch and a lecture on the allure of the area, which was midway between the studios and up-and-coming Beverly Hills.’ The area is now named Spaulding Square after him and is one of the most historically preserved areas in LA.

The Spaulding Family. Easton Ewing Spaulding is on the back row, fourth on the right.

Easton followed his father into the real estate business. His marriage licence to Jean Hilliker lists his occupation as a broker. He had been married twice before he met Jean. In the early 1920s he married Pearl Phelps. They had a son, Frank Tillman Spaulding, born in 1923. He divorced Pearl and married Beatrice ‘Bebe’ McCarthy Clark. They had a daughter Ann, born in 1935. After he married and divorced Jean Hilliker, Easton married for a fourth time. In 1945, Easton married Emile Hensel in – you guessed it – Yuma County.

Once again, the wedding took place in secrecy, but it was reported in the Morning Herald (a Pennsylvania based newspaper) after a tip-off from a source inside the Superior Court:

Didn’t Emily Hensel, sister of Betty Hensel, in whom Cary Grant is interested, get married in Yuma last Monday to Easton Spaulding, wealthy Beverly Hills man? The clerk there says that a license was issued under those names and that a ceremony was performed by Judge Henry C. Kelly…

The marriage lasted until Easton’s death in 1986. Emile died in 2014. Easton was a Beverly Hills resident and records show that he was living there until at least the 1970s. Armand and Jean lived together in Beverly Hills at North Doheny Drive, ‘the address was ritzier than the pad. My mother said it was just a small apartment’. They moved to West Hollywood after their son Lee Earle (now James) was born in 1948. Beverly Hills had a population of 26,000 in 1940. It was a rapidly developing community at the time (it had less than a thousand people in 1920), and was presumably big enough for Jean not to worry about bumping into her ex-husband Easton.

Aftermath

Those are the facts, just the facts. Here are some of my thoughts:

Jean first visited LA on December 12, 1938. She had won a glamour contest as the ‘Most Charming Redhead’. She stayed at the Ambassador Hotel. She took a screen test. She was paid $1,000 and was given a tour of Hollywood. The Spaulding’s had connections in Hollywood. Many Hollywood stars lived in Spaulding Square. Perhaps she met Easton this way. Perhaps he persuaded her to move permanently from Chicago to LA. Perhaps they met after she moved to LA.

Easton’s marriage to Jean was something of an outlier in his life. Yes, he had been married and divorced twice before but those unions had been long enough to produce children. His marriage to Jean appears to have been short and disastrous. It does not appear in the book The Spaulding Heritage, so presumably (as with Jean) none of his family were at the wedding and he probably didn’t tell them about it. The marriage was dissolved shortly afterwards. Armand Ellroy abandoned his first wife, Mildred Feese, to live with Jean in 1941. Easton was short and balding. Armand was tall and handsome. Armand was a few years older than Easton. Perhaps Jean abandoned Easton for Armand. Maybe they were already divorced by the time Jean met Armand. We don’t know. Did Easton pay alimony to Jean until she remarried, or was their marriage too short to warrant that?

Jean Ellroy was murdered in 1958. Armand was questioned by police and ruled out as a suspect. Their son was his alibi at the time Jean was murdered. Armand had custody of the boy at weekends. Armand would have made for a natural suspect if he did not have such a strong alibi. His divorce from Jean had been bitter and acrimonious. Leoda Hilliker always suspected Armand had murdered Jean, ‘my father got a kick out of the notion’. Easton Spaulding, it seems, was never interviewed by the police. His name is never mentioned in Ellroy’s detailed account of the original investigation. It’s probable that the police were unaware of Jean’s first marriage. Ellroy recalls overhearing detectives talking to his father, ‘The cops were saying their case was dead. Jean was such a goddamn secretive woman. Her life just didn’t make sense.’

Jean Hilliker was indeed secretive, but at least we now know the identity of her first husband.

Author’s Note: I informed James Ellroy of my findings prior to the publication of this article.

 

 

 

 

James Ellroy: The Eye of This Storm

March 1, 2020

Now that some time has passed since the publication of James Ellroy’s This Storm, I thought it would be a good moment to revisit the novel and reassess it with some objective distance. To do this, I have been burrowing in the files and plunging deep into my subconscious.

One memory stood out. It was from when I saw Ellroy speak in Manchester during his 2014 publicity tour for Perfidia. Ellroy asked the audience whether any of them knew or admired the work of the English composer Havergal Brian. No one, including myself, in the largely British audience had heard of Brian. I was intrigued. Ellroy’s admiration for composers such as Anton Bruckner and Beethoven is well-known. He keeps a bust of Beethoven on his writing desk. But I had never heard him mention the name Havergal Brian before. I can remember Ellroy gushing about what he most admired about Brian’s work. Havergal Brian enjoyed periodic success in his music career, but by the end of his long life he was working in relative obscurity. Unlike other British composers such as Benjamin Britten or Ralph Vaughan Williams he did not enjoy the privilege of a middle or upper-middle class background or the patronage of the establishment to further his music career. He was noted for being prolific. He was still composing well into his ninth decade. And despite his lack of critical recognition his music was epic and ambitious – The Gothic is one of the longest symphonies ever written. Given the logistical challenges it presents, the work is rarely performed and is by no means universally admired by music critics.

Havergal Brian

The more I read about Havergal Brian and listen to his music, the more I see how his ghost looms large over Ellroy’s recent writing. Like Brian, Ellroy’s family background was modest. He never graduated from an Ivy League university to write about middle-class problems in Suburban America. His talent was driven by his burning obsessions. Ellroy celebrates his seventy-second birthday this week and his books continue to get bigger, increasingly ambitious and more challenging to readers and critics alike. Ellroy is too competitive and well-established in his field to slip into obscurity in the same way that Havergal Brian did. But part of Ellroy appreciates how Brian, through his constant outpouring of classical music, fulfilled his Romantic destiny to ‘rage, rage against the dying of the light’.

If the work of Havergal Brian has been a hidden influence on Ellroy’s work then the references to WH Auden in This Storm were, at times, mystifying. The novel repeatedly employs the phrase ‘This storm, this savaging disaster’. It is supposedly an Auden quote, but the source is never fully made clear. Kay Lake writes in her diary ‘Joan (Conville) quoted it repeatedly and never ascribed a specific source.’ Ellroy has said of the Auden quote:

It’s an interpolation, a fiction. There is a letter WH Auden wrote to his friend Christopher Isherwood and I remember taking a look at it years ago and he used “this savaging disaster”, which, to me, felt incomplete. I wanted a title for this book that reflected my themes, reflected LA in winter and reflected the Pacific coast and I came up with the words “this storm”, which I felt I’d seen somewhere previously. In the book I attribute “this storm, this savaging disaster” to Auden even though he didn’t write that complete line.

As Peter Strempel has pointed out, Ellroy’s memory of Auden’s words has put the line through several permutations. He took it from a poem Auden wrote to his friend, and sometime lover, Christopher Isherwood titled ‘To a Writer On His Birthday’. The line actually reads ‘Who gives us nearer insight to resist / The expanding fear, the savaging disaster?’ The fluidity of memory and influence in Ellroy’s writing seems apt given the difference between the original LA Quartet and the recent novels. Personally, I don’t think once the new Quartet is finished Ellroy will have written a fully coherent fictional history of the US from 1941 to 1972, which he claims is his aim. How will he reconcile Dudley Smith’s parenting of Elizabeth Short with his absence from her murder investigation in 1947 if, as Ellroy insists, the new Quartet ends on VJ Day, 1945?

The new novels are more complex and dreamlike than that. For the first time the reader is in Dudley Smith’s head and it’s a strange place to be. With his opium habit, kimono fetish, blood-drenched memories of the Irish War of Independence and communion with a mystical wolf, Dudley is not a reliable character to make historical revelations. This might irk readers who usually revel in Ellroy’s ability to create and shape a plausible secret history but, upon revisiting This Storm I found that once I accepted these compromises I began to enjoy the text far more. Oh, and another thing, ‘The Expanding Fear’ might be a great title for volume three in the Quartet.

This Storm is Auden rewritten and Havergal Brian writ large. It is also quintessentially Ellrovian.

This Storm

 

%d bloggers like this: