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James Ellroy Day? – January 26

October 16, 2013

The LA Times reports that James Ellroy’s latest novel Perfidia, the first of a ‘Second LA Quartet’, will be released in the autumn of 2014. Ellroy has published a letter on the Sobel Weber Associates website in which he goes into detail as to what will comprise the plot of the new novel and series:

My design for “The Second L.A. Quartet” is unprecedented in scope, stylistic execution and dramatic intent.  I will take characters -– both fictional and real-life — from the first two extended bodies of work, and place them in Los Angeles during World War II –- as significantly younger people.  The action will begin the day before the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and will carry an enormous range of people through to the end of the war.  Massive police investigations, political intrigue, grand love affairs, war profiteering, Axis sabotage plots.  Four 700-page hardcover novels that will span the homefront breadth of the greatest worldwide event of the twentieth century.

And, now, Volume I -– PERFIDIA.

The story unfolds, in densely structured real time, between December 6th and December 29th, 1941.  Los Angeles is at the cusp of a titanic and horrifying world conflict.  Political divisions – Isolationism versus Interventionism – rage.  Anti-Japanese rancor is escalating and then the bodies of a middle-class Japanese family are found, in their home.

This is glorious news for Ellroy fans. The plot seems expansive and fascinating, covering some familiar territory which readers of his earlier work will recognise, but also containing plenty of new ideas. There will probably be a formidable publicity campaign between now and the book’s release, so I thought I would share on this website a story Ellroy told to interviewers Fleming Meeks and Martin Kihn which was reprinted in (shameless plug alert!) Conversations with James Ellroy.

Ellroy is widely acknowledged as one of the greatest crime writers working today, and as he enters this new phase of his career it worth looking back at when and where his writing career began. According to Kihn, Ellroy began writing after a near epiphany on the Bel-Air Country Club, LA, where he was working as a golf caddy:

Finally, on January 26, 1979, he went out onto the green, stared up at the sky, and prayed: “Please, God, let me start this book tonight.” That night, standing, writing on his dresser, he did. Ten months later, he sent it to four agents listed in Writers Market 1980, all of whom responded positively within a week. The man he went with sold it to Avon as a paperback original for $3,500.

In the interview with Fleming Meeks, Ellroy tells this story with a greater sense of irreverence, not mentioning the date and perhaps underplaying its significance:

“I was on the golf course. And I actually sent up a prayer to my seldom sought, blandly Protestant God. ‘God,’ I said, ‘would you please let me start this fucking book tonight?’ And I’ve been at it ever since.”

Note here the blasphemy and profanity which somehow seems appropriate for Ellroy’s entry into the crime genre. The novel he began that day was titled Brown’s Requiem and was published in 1981, and although it wasn’t a great success, Ellroy never looked back. He was still recovering from a long period of alcoholism, drug addiction and homelessness when he started writing, and it’s worth commemorating that a simple prayer of a golf caddy on a modest salary and with a slew of horrific experiences behind him was the genesis of a remarkable literary career.

So when January 26 (or James Ellroy Day if you prefer) comes round next year, I’ll be raising a glass to the Demon Dog and all of his best characters.

Here’s to them.

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