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Perfidia – A Second Look

December 18, 2014

PerfidiaI’m currently rereading James Ellroy’s Perfidia, and, although I was very impressed when I first read it, I’m finding I’m enjoying it even more this time round. Below I’ve flagged up some issues and details that I felt were more pertinent on the second reading. This post is not meant as a standard review. If you want a introduction to Perfidia read my original review or any number of the excellent reviews that have been written of the novel.

Ellroy gives the reader Kay Lake’s viewpoint through her diary entries. The first entry is titled, or should I say catalogued, ‘COMPILED AND CHRONOLOGICALLY INSERTED BY THE LOS ANGELES POLICE MUSEUM‘. I think this reference to the LAPD museum will be a huge issue for the rest of the Quartet. Ellroy has always been fascinated by telling stories through newspaper articles, transcripts, memorandums and bureaucratic minutiae. They are interspersed throughout his Quartet and Underworld USA novels raising questions as to viewpoints and the authorship of the text. Blood’s a Rover (2009) ends with the death of J. Edgar Hoover and the mystery surrounding the fate of his massive archive of files. I suspect Ellroy will build the connection between Kay’s diary and the LAPD museum so that all of the Quartet and Underworld novels could be read as an archive of documents covering three decades of American history.

The archive issue makes me question why Perfidia was billed as ‘real-time narration’. I’m not an expert, but it seems real time is much easier to render in film and theatre because the basic premise is that events are revealed at the same rate that the audience experiences them. Even if you leave aside the issue that reading a novel is very different from watching a film, there is still a problem with the real-time narration as this is historical fiction with clues, as detailed in the paragraph above, that events have been compiled by an archivist and historian in a specific order, which skewers any simultaneity between reader and text.

A mild criticism but there are a number of scenes wherein a man and a woman argue, i.e. William H. Parker and Kay. Every time the scene plays the same way. The man shouts and screams while the woman stays cool and makes a remark so cutting that the man smashes something and runs out. I don’t want to sound anti-Feminist, but I found this annoying personally. Have some respect for your own gender Demon Dog!

I’m not sure how I feel about Elizabeth Short being the illegitimate daughter of Dudley Smith. This is established early in the novel, and is not built up to be a big revelation, so I don’t think I’m giving away any spoilers here. The author’s original plan was to have Dudley Smith falling for Ellroy’s mother, Geneva Hilliker, thereby implying that the Demon Dog of American Literature was the son of his character Dudley Smith. Ellroy’s editor Sonny Mehta dissuaded him from this ambitious, and potentially distracting, metafictional plot line in Perfidia, but I doubt we’ve heard the last of it.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 18, 2014 11:29 pm

    I thought that with Perfidia Ellroy returned to his best form. Revisiting the back story of The Black Dahlia enhanced that original story in unexpected ways and the way that he handles the character of Dudley Smith (who comes to a sticky end later in the LA timeline) left me unsure of whether I like Dud or loathed him. Ellroy has cemented his mastery over this genre with this latest book and I can’t wait to read the next installment.

    • December 19, 2014 8:58 am

      Yes, I think it was a massive improvement on Blood’s a Rover and proof that experimentation as a writer is fine but there’s also a strong case to sticking to what you’re good at. One forthcoming issue will be what to do with Dudley Smith if Ellroy goes as far as the original Dahlia investigation. Dud wasn’t in the The Black Dahlia and considering the new connections Ellroy is forging between him and the case that could be a tricky one to negotiate.

  2. December 23, 2014 9:30 pm

    Glad you’re digging it more the second time around, Steve. I’m looking forward to reading it again myself. I concur – I found Dud’s paternity of Elisabeth Short a bit irksome. Almost as if Ellroy was trying to connect too many dots all at once. It just felt – unnecessary. In any case, a new Ellroy novel is cause for celebration. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for the next one.

    • December 23, 2014 10:49 pm

      Thanks Ward,

      When I saw him speak in Manchester he said he was writing as fast as he can. He’s determined to complete this Quartet and hopefully will have a few more up his sleeve as well.

  3. December 26, 2014 6:12 pm

    I find it interesting and ironic that Ellroy, a self confessed conservative and reviler of all things moderne, should choose to [de]construct his novels in such an unconventional way. He may loathe beatnik hipsters, but his work often reads like some rambling jazz improvisation. You just know he has a secret obsession for bebop dontcha?

    • December 26, 2014 9:01 pm

      Yeah I love the bebop rhythm to his prose. It’s thrilling to read. Ellroy is a mass of contradictions. He’s also a Christian, but how many Christians call themselves the Demon Dog!

      Speaking of which, Merry Christmas Tony. Hope you’re enjoying the holidays.

  4. Troy permalink
    May 24, 2016 11:27 am

    Any idea when we can expect the next novel?

    • May 24, 2016 12:20 pm

      Troy, I haven’t heard anything. He’s writing novels epic in scope now so we could be waiting a while…


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