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The Legacy of A.E. Housman: Roverpack

March 1, 2019

For the following post we welcome back to the blog James Ellroy aficionado and all-round good guy Jason Carter…

It’s amazing that a single line of text published in 1896 would go on to inspire three generations of writers.

On June 25, 2018, Harlan Ellison’s Blood’s A Rover was published by Subterranean Press, and strangely went immediately out of print. The book is the long-promised expansion of the literary legend’s 1969 Nebula-award winning novella A Boy and His Dog, and contains a 1980 introduction from anthropologist and sci-fi writer Chad Oliver, who authored a 1952 short story with the same title.  “Back in the Paleolithic, I wrote a story […] entitled Blood’s A Rover,” Oliver wrote.  “I extracted the title from a poem by A.E. Housman. Harlan Ellison has now performed the same feat of literary archaeology.” Tragically, just three days after Blood’s A Rover was published, Ellison would die at his Los Angeles home at the age of 84.

chad oliver note to harlan ellison

Chad Oliver note to Harlan Ellison

In September 2009, James Ellroy, the Demon Dog of American Literature, delivered the epic conclusion to his monumental Underworld USA Trilogy… a massive novel of American History from 1968 to 1972 also titled Blood’s A Rover.

As Oliver noted, the title derives from A Shropshire Lad, Housman’s 1896 collection of 63 poems that explore the problem of change and specifically a search for some kind of permanence amid such relentless transformation. With a melancholy tone that could serve as a template for a thousand noir plotlines, the poems tell us that life is brutal, yet mercifully brief. People should expect neither equality nor satisfaction, as misfortune is, Housman contends, a constant human burden.

A Shropshire Lad’s fourth poem, “Reveille”, named for the signal sound for waking armed forces, is a call to action in the face of approaching death. The phrase “Blood’s A Rover” appears in the final stanza, and urges vigorous participation in life while remaining conscious of death’s inevitability…  In other words, don’t waste a moment of your youth, because time waits for no one. This wake-up call, delivered to me with the publication of Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover, was just what I needed… At the end of 2009 I was at the bottom of the most cavernous rut of my life, after an addiction-addled run of disastrous events that saw me lose my job, house, and health, followed by a brutal and seemingly endless insomnia.

As Ellroy would tell the Birmingham Mail in 2010, he’s never read A Shropshire Lad…  “But I read a page once that had that quote [Blood’s A Rover] on it, and I know a good quote when I see one…  It was 30 years ago, I don’t even remember what I was reading.  I just remember my reaction.  I said ‘that’s a fucking good title for a novel.’”

Harlan Ellison’s Rover chronicles the grim misadventures of Blood the telepathic dog, his boy Vic, and a tough young woman named Spike as the trio struggle to survive in a post-World War IV apocalyptic wasteland.

In a setting that likely inspired Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Vic, Blood and Spike navigate a scorched and degraded world of marauding gangs (called “Roverpacks”) scavenging through the ashes of civilization. Hollywood has exhausted this scenario today, but in the politically paranoid 1950s and 60s, the idea was extremely popular among science fiction writers, as people actively feared nuclear war.

With division and disintegration all around them, Blood alone knows that cooperation offers their only shot at survival. This mutant mutt strives with courageous defiance to find meaning and purpose amid such wanton destruction, more than once mentioning belief as a necessity for survival.         

Ellison’s Rover is assembled from the prolific writer’s files using revised and expanded versions of “A Boy and His Dog”, along with material developed for Richard Corben’s 1989 graphic novel adaptation and an aborted 1977 NBC television series.

For decades, Ellison spoke of wanting to write a lengthy sequel to “A Boy and His Dog.”  However, Ellison’s countless other projects always interrupted. Ironically, it would be the greatest interruption of all—Ellison’s failing health—that would spur Ellison (with assistance from editor Jason Davis), to cobble together all of the surviving material, producing consequently the most coherent rendition of Ellison’s original intention.

It’s hard to imagine this exhaustive reconstructive process without being reminded of Don Crutchfield, the voyeuristic narrator of Ellroy’s Rover, and specifically the window-peeper’s lifetime of scholarship, comprised of “massive paper trails… stolen public files, and usurped private journals.”

A Shropshire Lad is distinguished by its fixation on the loss of innocence and the quest to recover such purity.  The heavily maternal connotations here should remind any Ellroy reader of the orphaned Crutchfield’s quest for redemption, as his “sum of personal adventure and 40 years of scholarship” piece together the shards of the past.

Harlan Ellison is too skilled a writer to mention it directly, but his characters are haunted by the same struggles as Housman’s Shropshire Lad:  The longer you progress on your journey, the more devastation you witness, and that destruction fundamentally alters who you are. Don Crutchfield also learns this grim truth, as such trauma constitutes for him “a dear and savage price to live history.”

Published in the May 1952 edition of Astounding Science Fiction, Chad Oliver’s Blood’s A Rover details the challenges of applied anthropology as a technical assistance team known as Process Planning indelibly alters the way of life for a tribe of nomadic farmers on the underdeveloped planet Sirius 10. Among Process Planning’s ranks is respected sociologist Conan Lang, who learns that the Oripesh natives of Sirius 10 are migratory because the Ricefruit crop they grow renders soil infertile for the following year. Lang gifts the tribe a modified Ricefruit that does not damage the soil, and immediately earns the angst of the village mystic, who quite prophetically calls Lang evil for damaging the tradition their egalitarian society is built around.

Upon returning to Sirius 10 three years later, Lang sees the disastrous effects of his catalytic gesture:  The once nomadic Oripesh now have embraced a horrendously inequitable capitalist class structure based on land ownership. With a king at the top, and slaves at the bottom, Lang immediately draws a parallel with the plight of Earth, whom he views as woefully unprepared for an impending intergalactic invasion. Like Sirius 10, Lang concludes that Earth’s only chance for survival lies in the ingenuity and initiative of its people.

In Ellroy’s Blood’s A Rover, the Demon Dog’s characters adopt Housman’s battle with relentless transformation, and even try to impose permanence (and sometimes false permanence) on such endless change through journal writing. Don Crutchfield’s career-cataloging of such a turbulent time represents the motherless window-peeper’s own retroactive grasp at permanence. In a labyrinthine tale that weaves together multiple narratives, shifting loyalties, and more than a few curveballs, tragedy first scars Ellroy’s players, and later moves them to astonishing—and quite revolutionary—exploits.

A.E. Housman’s depiction of disenchanted or unrequited love, and denouncement of life’s injustices comprise the bulk of A Shropshire Lad’s romantic melancholy mood. It’s a tenor that also prevails in the works of Ellison, Ellroy, and Oliver. Any reader of the Demon Dog knows that Ellroy’s tales of bad men obsessed with unattainable women have always featured a romantic melancholy essence. In Ellison’s Blood’s A Rover, melancholy is a constant companion as Blood, Vic and Spike traverse an America reduced to radioactive waste. There’s even a melancholy quality to Oliver’s Rover, as Conan Lang ponders extensively the crippling price of human apathy.

None of the three works actually mention the phrase “Blood’s A Rover” in the text. Only Ellison’s book comes closest, as Blood, the telepathic dog, is quite literally a rover.  Towards the end of Ellroy’s Rover, narrator Don Crutchfield evokes Housman’s famous phrase more than once, saying “I roved…” Large blocks of Chad Oliver’s text are occupied by Conan Lang’s mental soliloquies about the necessity of boldness while avoiding the cancer of complacency, thus conjuring Housman’s call to action: “Up, lad:  When the journey’s over, there’ll be time enough to sleep.” Ellroy also espouses this notion in his Rover’s repeated phrase “your options are do everything or do nothing,” something the Demon Dog would return to retroactively during a pivotal moment in his 2014 novel Perfidia.

I’ve never asked Ellroy if he met Harlan Ellison, but I wonder if the science fiction legend was a fan of the Demon Dog…  Ellroy’s Rover concludes just before the Watergate scandal, with the seeds of that blundered break-in indicated toward the novel’s end.  Ellison’s Rover seems to provide a subtle hint, as the very last page closes with Blood the telepathic dog giving an oral history lesson about the Watergate scandal.

Jason Carter

 

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The Cornell Woolrich Revival

February 22, 2019

 

Criminal masterminds. Demented killers. Vengeful brides. The fiction of Cornell Woolrich is rife with the kind of psychological tension audiences have always craved. He has been called the foremost suspense writer of the 20th century, the Edgar Allan Poe of his era. He was a prolific writer in the crime, horror, noir and mystery genres, publishing over two dozen novels and over two hundred short stories and novellas along with those that had been unpublished at the time of his death in 1968. But with so many works published by several different publishing entities over the decades, rights to his stories were granted left and right and transferred many times over, even after his death, creating a complicated web of rights issues that has taken his Estate’s representatives years to clear up.

Alan Nevins and his team at Renaissance Literary & Talent, who represent the various parties that control the Woolrich library, have worked tirelessly to track down and retrieve rights to stories and collections that have been out of print for decades due to these rights issues. They are now making a major push to reintroduce Woolrich’s revolutionary work to audiences new and old with fresh collections of his most well-known and obscure short fiction. They’ve broken ground with two electronic collections so far: a three-part series entitled Literary Noir: A Series of Suspense, which include some of Woolrich’s best suspense stories, and a two-part series published on the 50th anniversary his death, An Obsession with Death and Dying, a frequent subject for Woolrich, with more in the months to come.

Cornell Woolrich Author Image

Cornell Woolrich

Woolrich’s life was as complex as his rights. His parents separated when he was just a boy, and for most of his childhood he lived in various places in Mexico with his father, a travelling engineer. Francis Nevins’ biography on Woolrich tells us he did not have an easy relationship with his devout Catholic father. Even then, Nevins reports, Woolrich knew he wanted to be a writer and at one point was so captivated by the opera Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini that he would later write in his autobiography, Blues of a Lifetime, that the opera gave him “a sudden, sharp insight into color and drama that came back to the surface again years later when I became a writer.”

At the age of 12, Woolrich moved to New York to live with his mother and her family. He was particularly close with his mother’s father, who had taken him to see that fateful Madame Butterfly years earlier. Through his grandfather, teenage Woolrich was exposed to many aspects of American culture including a once weekly trip to the movies. According to Nevins, this was the only male bonding young Woolrich had, save for the unhappy years with his father in Mexico. Woolrich himself would later write at length about the impact his grandfather had on him, while barely mentioning his mother.

In 1921, Woolrich enrolled at Columbia University, the current benefactor of his Estate, taking many classes on literature, but he would never graduate. While there, he contracted a foot infection and was confined to bed for six weeks, at which point he started writing in earnest. His first novel, Cover Charge, a Jazz Age work inspired by the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald, was published soon after in 1926 when Woolrich was just 22 years old. He would go on to write five more Jazz Age novels before 1932, but the era fizzled out with the onset of the Depression, so none of these works managed to launch a serious literary career. His second novel, Children of the Ritz, won him $10,000 in a novel contest put on by College Humor magazine and First National Pictures, a Hollywood film company, giving Woolrich the opportunity to work as a screenwriter adapting his novel in Los Angeles. The few years he spent in Hollywood undoubtedly allowed Woolrich to explore his sexuality. Nevins reports that a short-lived marriage to the daughter of a film pioneer was annulled upon her discovery of a diary in which Woolrich recorded his  promiscuous lifestyle as a gay man. Woolrich was incredibly secretive and ashamed of his sexuality, something that would haunt him for the rest of his life and even propel him into alcoholism.

Woolrich’s screenwriting career ultimately fell flat, and he moved back to New York in 1931 at the age of 27 to live with his mother in the shabby residential Hotel Marseilles. Just a few years after his return, Woolrich’s first crime fiction story, “Death Sits in the Dentist’s Chair,” appeared in the August 1934 edition of Detective Fiction Weekly, kicking off a prolific run of over two hundred short stories and novellas that would appear in dozens of different pulp magazines over the next several decades. His most famous story, “It Had to be Murder” (Dime Detective Magazine, 1942), was adapted into the classic 1954 Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly.

Woolrich’s first suspense novel, The Bride Wore Black, made a huge splash within the genre when Simon & Schuster published it in 1940, earning him rave reviews for the sheer terror that the cunning revenge spree of his titular character, a bride whose husband-to-be was murdered on their wedding day, instilled in readers. It was the first of six within the “Black Series” of novels published over the next eight years, all of which can be found in a digital two-part collection along with Renaissance’s short story collections. As with Bride, The Black Curtain (1941), Black Alibi (1942), The Black Angel (1943), The Black Path of Fear (1944) and Rendezvous in Black (1948) were the pinnacle of noir crime fiction writing. Woolrich was adept at crafting stories that evoked a deep and overwhelming sense of dread in both his characters and the reader. This was true for many of his other famous novels, including Phantom Lady (1942), Deadline at Dawn (1944), Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1945), Waltz into Darkness (1947), I Married a Dead Man (1948), and Savage Bride (1950), among others.

Woolrich was so prolific in the suspense and crime fiction genres that he published several of his novels and stories under the pseudonyms William Irish and George Hopley so they could appear in competing magazines. Many were adapted into major motion pictures by studios like Paramount, Universal and RKO. One of the most famous film adaptations aside from Rear Window was directed by François Truffaut, whose French new wave interpretation of The Bride Wore Black, entitled La Mariee Etait en Noir, premiered in 1968, the year Woolrich died. Dozens of his short stories were adapted for popular network radio and television show episodes including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Suspense and Molle Mystery Theatre.

The end of Woolrich’s life was just as unusual as his childhood. His mother died in 1957 and for the next several years he lived alone. The same foot infection that plagued him in his 20s returned and he let it rage untreated to the point of gangrene. Doctors were forced to amputate his leg and he died shortly thereafter in 1968 at the age of 64.

Many years after his death, Woolrich was the subject of a Supreme Court case over rights for “It Had to be Murder” and its adaptation, Rear Window, between Sheldon Abend, a literary agent, and James Stewart (Stewart v. Abend, 1990). Woolrich was contractually obligated to renew the story’s copyright when the 28-year copyright was up (a copyright law that has since been revised) and assign it to the film rights owner. But when Sheldon Abend acquired much of the Woolrich Estate in 1971, he refused to assign the copyright for “It Had to be Murder” to the owner of the film rights per Woolrich’s original contract. When Rear Window was shown on television, Abend sued Stewart for infringement of copyright.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court decided in Abend’s favor, ruling that the author’s heir is allowed to prevent continued distribution and publication of a derivative work (in this case, the film adaptation), as control of the original work reverts to the author or their successor when copyright renewal occurs. This decision, which ultimately protects the author or author’s heirs from being deprived of the value of the original work, had huge repercussions for the film industry. Because the decision only determined U.S. copyrights, it left an unclear path regarding international rights, as those had not been challenged overseas. Many studios found they suddenly no longer owned domestic rights to film adaptations they had made, while still owning the rights overseas, thus causing massive industry-wide complications and adding further complications to Woolrich’s Estate.

Half a century has passed since Woolrich’s death, and in those years, multi-layered rights issues have taken much of his work out of print. After years of painstaking efforts to track down rights and revert them back to Woolrich’s Estate, the Renaissance team, along with those publishers who appreciate the significance of his work, seek to bring his beloved stories and novels back into both the print and digital arena. In addition to Literary Noir, An Obsession with Death and Dying, and the two-part Black Series, Renaissance has made available on their digital publishing platforms many of Woolrich’s individual short stories and novels. It is well past time Woolrich’s groundbreaking writing be reintroduced back into the world. It can be found on the following platforms: Amazon (Kindle), Barnes & Noble (Nook), Kobo and iBooks.

Every story in these volumes is gripping, suspenseful, dark and funny. In short, everything noir fans have come to expect from Cornell Woolrich’s writing.

The Ellroy Backlash

February 1, 2019
Ellroy Manchester

James Ellroy at the Dancehouse Theatre, Manchester

This is a tough question for me to ask, but if you’re a James Ellroy fan then perhaps you’ve already pondered it, so here goes – is James Ellroy losing his touch?

I’ve decided to broach the subject as the critical response to Ellroy’s last novel Perfidia was mixed, as were the reviews for his novel before that Blood’s a Rover. The author Peter Corris put it in typically blunt Australian fashion: ‘I think he’s (Ellroy) disappeared up his own arsehole as a stylist’. Occasionally, I see comments on social media that are quite disparaging of Ellroy’s recent work. Now I shouldn’t pay too much, if any, attention to trolls, but it’s worth noting sometimes that readers and fans can be more honest and straightforward than critics. I’ve sensed a certain weariness about Ellroy’s recent efforts when I talk with fans of the author. To be clear, I admired Blood’s a Rover and I enjoyed Perfidia much more by comparison. But upon revisiting Perfidia, I was surprised by the number of issues that troubled me — Dudley Smith’s parentage of Elizabeth Short chief among them.

So Ellroy cannot expect his new novel This Storm to be met with universal acclaim as critical opinion has started to shift. In fact, the opposite may be the case. Ellroy may have to win back some critics who are getting cynical about the author’s once unassailable reputation. But that may be a positive development for a writer who still prides himself on being a polemicist. Looking back over Ellroy’s career, it is clear that the Demon Dog has found himself out of favour with critics before and has produced some of his best work during these periods.

Ellroy struggled to receive any critical attention for his first six novels. Some modern critics still use Ellroy’s seventh and breakthrough novel The Black Dahlia as the starting point in examining his writing. Early works such as Brown’s Requiem and the Lloyd Hopkins series have much to commend them. Aside from the Chandleresque private-eye narrative of Ellroy’s debut Brown’s Requiem, there is an intriguing subplot about the leading character, Fritz Brown’s, friendship with a down on his luck alcoholic named Walter. I have written before on how the character Walter was inspired by Ellroy’s real-life chum Randy Rice, and this provided one of the strongest aspects of the novel. The Brown/Walter relationship does little to further the plot. They spend most of their time riffing on the big questions: life, love and the Black Dahlia case. When Walter dies prematurely of natural causes Brown is left devastated. His friendship with Walter was redemptive, and it is just as important to him as solving the violent case at the heart of the narrative. It is to Ellroy’s credit that he had the ambition and foresight as a first-time novelist to create this relationship. I can’t imagine an editor being keen on it. They would have preferred, perhaps, for Walter to have been murdered by the villain, leaving Brown hungry for revenge.

Brown’s Requiem received scant attention from critics, but Ellroy was soon to make a name for himself. 1987 to 1996 and the publication of the LA Quartet novels might be considered Ellroy’s Golden Age. Ellroy would benefit by a return to the relatively short length, but epic scope, of novels such as The Black Dahlia and White Jazz. While some Ellroy readers cite American Tabloid as the apotheosis of his writing genius, for me he achieved this with its follow-up The Cold Six Thousand despite the lukewarm critical response. Reviewers began to mock his writing style, as Tom Cox put it, ‘James Stops. James Thinks. James Writes a Sequel’, and many fans gave up on it long before reaching the final page. I think the novel was lumbered with a notoriety it never truly deserved. I’m not just saying that to sound like the type of critic who defends Finnegan’s Wake. It is genuinely one of my favourite Ellroy works. There is not a sentence present which does not propel the story forward, and what an incredible narrative it is. Beginning on the day of JFK’s assassination, Ellroy takes us through the Mob’s infiltration of Las Vegas via their Mormon- loving vampiric front-man Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover’s increasingly desperate COINTELPRO operations against the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and ending with assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. By its coda you really feel that Ellroy has taken you on a journey through this Underworld era. In short, it has everything we have come to expect from an epic Ellrovian history.

It’s a shame to think that the negative reviews of Cold Six sent Ellroy on the stylistic experiments aimed at winning back critical approval, only to ironically push it further away. Ellroy suffered a nervous breakdown, partly as a result of the gruelling publicity tour for Cold Six, which he candidly detailed in The Hilliker Curse as leading to a relapse into addiction and the dissolution of his second marriage. It was a difficult time for the author but his ambition didn’t falter. He hasn’t reverted into any old generic tropes in his recent output, but I do feel that his last few novels aren’t as stylistically rigorous as his best work.

Although reviewers may have turned against Ellroy, scholarly interest in the author is growing. Two studies of Ellroy were published last year and academics are increasingly putting his work on module reading lists. I no longer feel like the only Ellroy scholar in the room. But more important than Ellroy’s critical reputation at any given time is that readers are still, by and large, tremendously excited about This Storm and the narrative direction of the Second LA Quartet. I’ve no doubt there will be issues in the text that will need to be grappled with. Ellroy writes epic works and the potential for the narrative to drift off-course, even for a briefest moment, are higher as a consequence. But if you’ve read this far then the chances are you are an Ellroy fan, and if you’re the type of fan who has made your way through the entire body of work then there will naturally be certain texts you didn’t like. Ellroy has always been inclined to take risks rather than just give the readers what they want, and that’s what makes him the Demon Dog of American crime fiction. I, for one, am not losing faith in that.

An Interview with Joseph Wambaugh

January 15, 2019

Joseph Wambaugh at the 2010 LA Times Festival of Books. Photograph by Mark Coggins

Joseph Wambaugh is one of the most important American crime writers of the past fifty years. While serving as a police officer in the LAPD, Wambaugh began writing about the everyday lives of policemen and women. His first two novels The New Centurions (1971) and The Blue Knight (1972) were instant successes which did much to strip away the myths about police work found in scores of fanciful crime novels/TV shows (some of which were essentially LAPD propaganda, like Dragnet). Wambaugh’s cops are tough and street-smart but they are also harassed, worn down, living with constant pressure and struggling with failing marriages all brought on by the repetitive drudgery and bureaucratic nature of police work. That said, he captures the gallows humour and camaraderie of policemen as only a true copper could. For the average police officer, the pay is poor; political activists regard them as villains; and you never know if an average working day will turn violent. Despite this people are still drawn to the LAPD in order ‘to protect and to serve’ their community, even if it might leave them with a jaundiced view of their fellow human being.

Wambaugh eventually resigned from the LAPD when his literary fame was beginning to interfere with the job. His writing style has consistently developed over the years with five non-fiction books covering landmark police cases, beginning with the superlative The Onion Field (1973). Later novels took on a more satirical or absurdly comical edge (at least in my view, see below). There have been numerous film and TV adaptations of his books over the years, and more recently he developed his first novel series beginning with Hollywood Station in 2006, which features a cast of police characters covering the Hollyweird beat.

I was delighted when Joseph Wambaugh agreed to an interview with me. A single conversation cannot cover all of the books of Wambaugh’s writing career, but I’m satisfied we managed to cover the main texts. The following exchange took place by email.

Interviewer: Few crime writers have as much inside knowledge of police work as you do. How did this inform your approach to writing and how you viewed other crime writers at the start of your writing career?

Wambaugh: I had a very busy life before the start of my writing career. I had served three years in the USMC, marrying my high school sweetheart at the age of 18 while a Marine, later worked a year in a steel mill, all the while taking night or day college classes on a full or part-time basis with money from the GI Bill and California Veteran’s Bill. I had my BA degree in literature before joining the LAPD in 1960 at the age of 23.  The “closet” writing did not start until I was promoted to sergeant seven years later and by that time had two children. So I simply never had the time to do much reading of other crime writers, therefore,  I didn’t “view” them at all.  I just relied on my own police experience.

Interviewer: Your early novels The New Centurions, The Blue Knight and The Choirboys are both riotously funny but also melancholy and profound. What is it about a police officer’s role that lends itself well to both comedy and tragedy, and do you think conditions have got better or worse for the police since you left the LAPD?

Wambaugh: I had always loved war novels that combined comedy and tragedy,  books that were funny and melancholy, like Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse Five. I thought that police work was the perfect job in which to indulge that approach to a novel. For example, The Oracle, a sergeant in Hollywood Station, tells his coppers that doing good police work is the most fun they will ever have in their entire lives. I have always believed that, and yet, last year more American cops died by suicide than were killed in the line of duty. Death by one’s own hand was always lurking in a job where young men and women see the worst of people and ordinary people at their worst and become prematurely cynical as a result. The Choirboys captured all that, I think. As to conditions getting worse, yes they have. More U.S. cops were shot to death on duty last year than died in car crashes or in any other way.

Interviewer: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was a massively influential text on the crime genre when it was published. Capote endorsed The Onion Field in print, and you paid ‘tribute’ to him on the Dean Martin Celebrity Roast. Could you tell us a little more about your friendship with Capote and how he inspired your writing?

Wambaugh: I met Truman Capote on the Tonight Show which starred Johnny Carson.  Truman and my wife, Dee, chatted in the “green room” while I was in makeup or onstage and he invited us to his Palm Springs home. Even though I lived for most of my life only a two-hour drive from Palm Springs I had never been there and neither had Dee. We visited Truman one summer afternoon where his house guest included a bartender from a famous New York saloon whose names escapes me at the moment. Dee was given a screwdriver and got very sleepy. Truman suggested it was the intense desert heat of the day and led her to his bedroom where she could lie down. While she was there I told Truman and his bartender friend the story of The Onion Field that I was thinking about researching and writing. When I was finished he said, “I would love to write that story.”  When Truman said that, I knew I would do it. To this day, Dee claims that Truman Capote “slipped her a mickey” so he could be alone “with her cute young cop.” We saw him occasionally over the years at dinner or at parties he gave and he was wonderful to us, and he thrilled me by his jacket quote when The Onion Field was published. Dee also claims that she is probably the only woman to have slept in Truman Capote’s bed.

Interviewer: You have written five non-fiction books some of which cover investigations and trials which lasted for years. How do you go about the enormous research needed for books of this kind?

Wambaugh: I do research partly the way a police detective works on a crime and partly the way a psychotherapist works with patients. The research is mostly just very hard work and having the discipline to do it. And another hard part is not letting personal biases taint the story that is finally told. No matter how I felt personally about The Onion Field killers of an LAPD officer, I gave them their point of view and told their story in their words as they told it and lived it. Neither killer complained about his portrayal except that Gregory Powell thought he was more physically attractive than I depicted him in the book, or that James Woods later portrayed him in the movie.

Gregory Powell

 

 

 

 

 

 

james woods

James Woods as Gregory Powell in the film adaptation of The Onion Field

Interviewer: One of my favourite books of yours is The Blooding as it is set in England and deals with a landmark case involving the first use of genetic fingerprinting in a police investigation. How did you find police investigations over here differed from your time in the LAPD?

Wambaugh: When I first read about the new discovery of “genetic fingerprinting” at Leicester University I realized that it could become as important in crime detection as inked fingerprinting was at the dawn of the 20th century. I contacted the Leicestershire Constabulary and was thrilled to learn that not a single British writer had approached them or seemed interested in writing a book about the case. I was on an airplane within a week. The police officers involved in the case all knew who I was and treated me like one of them. Coppers are coppers the world over, I suspect. Their methods were the same as ours in the U.S. except that they had this exciting new discovery with which to do the massive job of blood-testing every young man in a three village area in order to find a DNA match for the serial killer of two young girls.

Interviewer: Your later novels such as The Secrets of Harry Bright and Finnegan’s Week took on a more satirical edge. What brought about this stylistic change to your writing?

Wambaugh: I never thought my later books are more satirical, but if they are, it is probably the aging process and the fact that I needed a somewhat newer direction to keep my interest honed.

Interviewer: You’re somewhat unique among crime writers in not developing an ongoing series of novels until late in your career. Why did you decide to write the Hollywood Station series?

Wambaugh: I did not intend to finally write a series of novels, but after I finished Hollywood Station, I had so much research material left that I just had to do a follow-up.  And then another, and finally I had five books. I interview 50 or 60 cops as well as other people before I ever start a police novel.

Semper cop,

Joseph Wambaugh

 

Brexit: The Uncivil War – Review

January 8, 2019

Back in 2013, I published an article with the British Politics Review about the rather niche subject of Eurosceptic crime fiction. Euroscepticism was gaining momentum in the UK as a political movement. But I was surprised there was so little cultural evidence of this growing force in comparison to, for instance, the many notable anti-Vietnam war movies that were made in the 1970s. Of course, the idea we’d ever vote to leave the EU seemed comically improbable back then, and only a few genre authors such as Michael Dobbs, Alan Judd and Adam Lebor had written thrillers which cast the EU in a villainous light. The fact that the British Politics Review is a Norwegian (outside the EU) publication suggested to me that Eurosceptic crime fiction would remain a specialist subject and not take off into its own Golden Age.

Things have changed. Brexit has upended the UK political order, just as the election of Donald Trump has in the US. None of us can say for certain what’s going to happen between now and March 29th (Brexit Day). That to me is the real political thriller.

It’s not surprising then that Brexit as a cultural phenomenon and publishing industry has finally taken off. There are scores of political textbooks, Brexit literature and dramas being churned out. Channel Four’s Brexit: The Uncivil War has a good claim to be the most direct and rewarding dramatisation of Brexit yet produced. Brexit tells the story of Dominic Cummings (played to quirky perfection by Benedict Cumberbatch), an unknown civil servant who becomes the brains behind the Eurosceptic Vote Leave campaign. When the audience first meet Cummings, he’s in something of a personal limbo. His wife Mary Wakefield is pregnant with their first child, but Cummings hasn’t been employed in a long time after growing disillusioned with the workings of government. Somewhat reluctantly, he’s pulled into the Leave campaign. He begins by radically harnessing the power of social media with its massive outreach and targeted ads. He knows the Remain campaign, led by his old nemesis Craig Oliver, has every possible advantage from its access to government data on the electorate to people’s natural tendency to support the status quo in referendums, but Cummings will exploit their weaknesses. The IN side are lazy and complacent, buoyed by flawed opinion polls that invariably give them the lead and overly reliant on celebrity endorsements which have little effect on the public.

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Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings

Cumberbatch, a Remainer, was apparently adamant that the drama should not be a hatchet job on Cummings. Cummings has a brilliant, visionary mind but he is also anti-social and obstinate. In many ways this is what makes him such a compelling figure. He doesn’t think twice about browbeating higher-profile Eurosceptics such as Nigel Farage or Daniel Hannan. This gives you an insight into Cumming’s Brexiteer mindset. This guy’s not just taking on the might of the European Union, but also the UK establishment (the political parties, business, education and charity sectors, the English Church, large sections of the press, and the Civil Service) that support it. In addition, he cannily splits the Leave campaign into two groups. Sidelining Farage’s UKIP who are obsessed with immigration and winning official designation from the Electoral Commission for Vote Leave in order to run a more positive, internationalist campaign. There are some attempts by disgruntled Eurosceptics to replace him, leading to one of the best scenes in the film in which he survives a palace coup at Vote Leave HQ through some creative use of his beloved social media. By quietly tapping a message into his phone, Cummings soon has a whole army of campaigners threatening to walk out if he is replaced. If anyone thought this scene was implausible, then you should bear in mind that having the support of social media saved President Erdogan from an attempted military coup in Turkey. We live in interesting times.

By its close the drama is asking, without much optimism, where do we go from here? The difficulty is finding an answer that will satisfy both Leavers and Remainers alike, and help us move past these labels.

But, as the show’s writer James Graham has talked about the need for reconciliation, I’m going to try!

Most people I talk to love modern Britain with its multiculturalism and global economy. Citizens from Poland, Ireland, France, Spain are now a daily part of our lives as colleagues, friends, neighbours and family. I hope we can maintain and grow these things and also develop an immigration policy that allows Commonwealth and non-EU migrants the same freedom and generosity that EU citizens currently enjoy. In addition, I hope Brexit Britain can develop a trade policy which doesn’t discriminate against non-EU businesses as the Customs Union currently does. If future governments and generations rise to this challenge, then I’ve no doubt that Britain will thrive. Perhaps as a country we can move past the rancour shown in the drama. We could keep the more positive legacy of European Union membership, but cast aside the bloated, unaccountable institutions of the EU which have put the Eurozone economies through a disastrous programme of austerity far worse than anything the UK has endured.

This, I believe, is close to the enigmatic Cummings’ view of a post-EU Britain. And I hope it is the most positive and likely outcome of the historic referendum which irrevocably changed the UK.

 

 

The Little Drummer Girl – Review

December 23, 2018
Episode one of The Little Drummer Girl concludes with the aspiring actress Charlie’s romantic evening in Athens with Michel going awry. While driving together, he begins  acting odd, making cryptic comments and speeding down unfamiliar roads. Thinking she is being Shanghaied into some awful fate, Charlie is confused and intrigued when Michel stops the car at an imposing house. She is greeted by a group of Israeli men and women: the leader Kurtz introduces himself as the ‘producer, writer and director of our little show and I would like to talk with you about your part.’
The Little Drummer Girl

Alexander Skarsgård as Becker, Florence Pugh as Charlie Ross – The Little Drumer Girl _ Season 1, Episode 3 – Photo Credit: © 2018 The Little Drummer Girl Distribution Limited. All rights reserved.

Kurtz has done his research, and Charlie (a left-wing radical) has been carefully selected for a mission to infiltrate a pro-Palestinian terrorist group who have bombed the Israeli embassy in West Germany. Her acting talents are a perfect fit for the murky world of espionage as through her undercover work she is required to overtly embrace and covertly reject her instinctual support for Palestinian liberation. The genius of The Little Drummer Girl, adapted from John le Carré’s superlative novel, is that the audience is constantly guessing when the performance ends and real life begins. Are we watching Charlie the actress or Charlie the real person as she slipstreams between the role of Mossad agent and terrorist? Is she in danger of going native in the austere Lebanese terrorist camp, or is she is bit too attracted to the European- based terror cell where her new-found comrades love to drink, laugh and make love just as much as the acting troupes she grew up in? No matter where Charlie finds herself, she is fully the thespian. When she chooses a role, she plays it to the hilt. This is why Kurtz insists, at a moment of great danger to the innocents involved when there is literally a ticking bomb in the room, that Charlie pause and ‘play the scene’. There were shades of an American-style method acting in the physicality of Charlie’s performance, and in the tortuous psychological effects of her coming out of character. I thought this was alluded to best in the closing scenes between Charlie and Michel: ‘Who are you? Who am I?’ Charlie asks.
In a narrative that is largely about acting it should come as no surprise that the entire cast was extraordinarily good, but special mention has to go to Florence Pugh as Charlie. The twenty-two year old actress pulled off a wonderfully layered performance in one of the most daunting roles imaginable. I won’t curse Pugh with that kiss of death cliche ‘the next big thing’, but I sincerely hope we’ll be seeing more of her. But what of the future of le Carré onscreen?
By the late 1970s three of le Carré’s novels had been adapted for the silver screen, but the BBC was about to introduce a new long-form narrative in its superlative adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy which unravelled over seven episodes and was better suited at accommodating the author’s convoluted plotting of double and triple-crosses. For proof of this, look at how inferior the big-screen remake of Tinker Tailor was by comparison. After the disappointing adaptation of A Perfect Spy in 1987 it would be the best part of thirty years before le Carre’s work would be adapted again into a mini-series. That series was The Night Manager, and while it was a massive hit and seductively entertaining, there was nothing in it that matched The Little Drummer Girl in terms of its compelling portrait of people caught up in a web of deception. As a period piece, set in the late 1970s, it was impressive just how fresh and urgent the story of radicalisation and individuals falling victim to governments and ideologies felt today. The novel is well-suited to television, not least because a previous film adaptation was a crushing disappointment but also, as I have examined elsewhere, the story behind the novel is even more fascinating as it involves le Carre’s meetings with Mossad agents and PLO leader Yasser Arafat while researching the book.
The Little Drummer Girl may not have been a ratings smash but, over time, I believe it will come to be regarded as one of the greatest adaptations of le Carré’s work. And that’s quite an achievement as there have been no fewer than 16 small and silver screen le Carré adaptations over the past five decades. I’ve no doubt there will be more. Our Game would be terrific onscreen, as would The Honourable Schoolboy. Maybe someone will even pluck up the courage to adapt the critically reviled The Naive and Sentimental Lover. I feel though that what this production achieved in terms of storytelling, performance and production may be hard to top. But as it seems likely there will always be fascination with le Carré’s work then film and television makers will keep trying. And even at the age of 87 le Carré is still writing, with a new novel out next year for readers to look forward to.

James Ellroy’s Lonely Places: a Retrospective

December 5, 2018

For the following post we welcome back to the blog James Ellroy aficionado and all-round good guy Jason Carter…

Rude awakenings and abrupt, violent endings are all too common in noir.

In July 2018, James Ellroy announced via his official website that he had abruptly ended his award-winning Denver film series In a Lonely Place at the Alamo DrafthouseIn a coldly monochromatic post that implied a possible rift with the Alamo’s senior management, the Demon Dog explicitly thanked the fans who faithfully attended his film screenings, and the legendary Q&A sessions in the bar afterwards.

It had to end at some point, but this was not the denouement I was hoping for.  I had imagined a ceremonial grand sendoff and perhaps one final film before Ellroy departed for his world tour in support of This Storm. (Ellroy had in fact spoken of hosting a release party for his new novel at the Alamo just before throwing the kill switch).  However, Ellroy’s abrupt termination shouldn’t surprise me, as none of Ellroy’s novels (with the possible exception of L.A. Confidential) end on a uniform note; their author a fierce opponent of any kind of closure. Also, a painful awareness that life rarely—if ever—makes rational sense, is one of noir’s foundational principles.

The Demon Dog’s film series was certainly not his first ongoing event, but it was likely his longest. Just a few years before his 2015 move to Denver, Ellroy spent some weeks hosting night-cloaked bus tours of L.A.’s mean streets while telling wretchedly entertaining tales of Tinseltown’s seedy past.  By the time Ellroy severed his ties with the Alamo, his Denver film series was just months away from its third anniversary.

Seeing Ellroy at the Alamo each month afforded an unparalleled view of the staggeringly busy itinerary of an author with a worldwide following, as he jaunted around the globe from one literary event to the next—Barcelona to Brussels to Turin, L.A., New York and his beloved France— while never missing his faithful monthly perch at Denver’s Alamo Drafthouse.

As we look back across the unforgettable wake of Ellroy’s iconic film series and deeply ponder the role of film noir, it’s only appropriate to do so alongside the real life violence which no silver screen can contain… Ellroy, who has told us his violent art reflects our violent contemporaneous reality, would have it no other way.

Ellroy began his series in September, 2015 with Curtis Hanson’s Academy Award winning take on the Demon Dog’s L.A. Confidential.  The film streamlined Ellroy’s byzantine novel, excising several key subplots, but retaining Ellroy’s obsessive focus on verisimilitude and, especially, the soul-crushing price exacted by maintaining such a disingenuous performance. Ellroy would screen L.A. Confidential at the Alamo a second time in December, 2017 in recognition of the film’s 20th anniversary.  Oddly enough, both occasions boasted the largest crowds in the series’ history.

In October 2015, 10 people were shot dead by a 26 year old at a community college in southern Oregon. The shooter, who had an extensive history of mental illness and a steady diet of hate-fueled indoctrination, would later die in an exchange of fire with the police.

Akira Kurosawa’s High & Low, adapted from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novel King’s Ransom, gave us the moral dilemma of a powerful corporate executive facing financial ruin.  The executive is forced to determine the value of someone else’s life, a life with which has no bearing on his own.  High & Low’s exceptional juxtaposing of the economic extremes of society, reminded me of a similar technique Fritz Lang employed in Metropolis, which, incidentally, is a film the Demon Dog roundly despises, finding it too dystopian.

   

In November 2015, a police officer and two civilians were killed and nine others wounded when a 60-year-old with a hair-trigger temper and a history of spousal abuse and infidelities opened fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, a devastating meditation on obsession, follows an obsessive detective as he transforms a woman into a duplicate of a dead woman who is the object of his obsession. The film covers territory Ellroy would explore at length in the L.A. Quartet. In conversation with the Demon Dog after the film, Ellroy told me Vertigo was the last film he saw before his mother was murdered.

Male domination of women is a constant feature in noir, with the callous nature of the famous femme fatale an appropriate counterpoint to jilted men who act befuddled when the dame betrays them. It’s a man’s world, and men make the money, often shamelessly trampling women in the process. In fact, noir’s men treat women as abundantly disposable and wilfully interchangeable commodities; bitterly clarifying noir’s statement that weaponized sex is often a femme fatale’s only option for economic advancement.  You can thus understand the man-maiming actions of the women in Ellroy’s selection of Edmund O’Brien’s Man Trap and Ken Hughes’ Wicked as They Come.

In December 2015, an armed couple, both from troubled childhoods involving domestic abuse and violent childhood indoctrination, fired dozens of shots inside a San Bernardino conference hall at a service center for people with disabilities, leaving 14 dead. Both shooters died in an exchange of fire with police later the same day.

Occasionally, Ellroy would present a film with no relation to the noir universe. Such is the case with Gordon Douglas’ THEM!, Jean-Luc Goddard’s Band of Outsiders, and even Robert Altman’s Nashville, a sprawling, interlocking 1975 masterpiece that explores the dynamics between nearly 30 characters across a timespan of only five days. Ellroy wouldn’t confirm this, but I had to wonder if Nashville wasn’t the Demon Dog’s inspiration for Perfidia’s micro history format. Nonetheless, Ellroy anointed Nashville as nothing less than “The great American motion picture,” feeling that it depicted America far more accurately than an over-lauded film like Citizen Kane. Barely a year after Nashville, Ellroy would also go on to screen The Long Goodbye, Altman’s 1973 noir-tinged paean to Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe.

In June 2016, 49 people were killed at an Orlando nightclub by a 29 year old with a years-long penchant for violence and depravity, a propensity fueled by dismissive parents and endless bullying.

Film noir often illuminates the dark underbelly of a city, concealing faceless terrors waiting to attack you at any moment. This is the grim setting for Blake Edwards’ Experiment in Terror, featuring a heroine that paradoxically is most vulnerable in her own home. Joseph Losey’s The Prowler, which Ellroy screened as part of Noir City Denver, also explored this territory.  At the core of these films is anxiety, which noir views as more useful than the complacency proffered by streamlined Hollywood productions with disingenuously uniform happy endings. A prime directive in noir is to shock the public out of stasis, and expose just how thin the veneer of society really is…  In this way, noir helped people accept the insane randomness and unpredictability of life. (Take THAT, American self-confidence!)

Noir’s characters are often pushed around by forces larger than themselves, and are beholden to a clandestine and ruthless bureaucracy where conspiracies, beatings, murders, and brutal coercion are all business as usual.  The films also show people struggling hopelessly to escape a trap that, all too often, they themselves constructed.  Joseph Newman’s 711 Ocean Drive, and Byron Haskin’s I Walk Alone, fit this mold.  Complicating the matter even further, every noir character is also grappling with their own private grief.

In July 2016, five Dallas police officers were killed in a sniper attack during a public demonstration against fatal police shootings. The shooter, a delusional 25-year-old discharged soldier with PTSD and an extensive distrust of law enforcement, was killed by an explosive delivered to him by a remote controlled bomb disposal robot.

In a grim case of art mimicking life, Ellroy screened Bo Widerberg’s The Man on the Roof, which, as expected, climaxes in a manner shockingly similar to the Dallas sniper attack. The 1976 Swedish police procedural was one of several foreign films Ellroy screened, in conspicuous appreciation for the Demon Dog’s enormous European audience. Ellroy has a particularly large following in France, something he respectfully acknowledged when he told us “The frogs are obsessed with American crime, and they know noir better than anyone else.”      

In October 2017, a gunman opened fire on a crowd of more than 22,000 at an outdoor concert in Las Vegas, killing 58 and injuring more than 500. The gunman would later die of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The namesake film of Ellroy’s series, Nick Ray’s landmark 1950 noir In a Lonely Place, deftly showcased the quiet desperation of Hollywood, a disposable industry forced to reflect the wants and whims of a casually dismissive and lazy public. Brought to life by Humphrey Bogart’s stunning portrayal of the brooding and volatile Dixon Steele, the film asserts that the industry’s stifling of independent thought led many writers to greatly resent earning a Tinseltown paycheck, in spite of how enormous such salaries often were.

In November 2017, a 26-year-old with a history of animal cruelty and spousal abuse opened fire on a small church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 25 people and an unborn child. The shooter died crashing his SUV after a high speed chase with police.

Many of the noirs Ellroy screened involved painfully ordinary people orchestrating elaborate heists as a way to level a mercilessly uneven economic playing field. Middle class characters bitterly view the rich as evil, while always trying to join their ranks…  The denial implicit within this contradiction is inescapably noir, as the middle class know that becoming an elite requires abandoning their fatuous bumper sticker virtues and capitulating to the soul-devouring machinations of a brutally heartless world. Yet, your past is never far from you, and ignoring this always sets the stage for disastrous consequences.

In February 2018, a former student with a history of behavioral issues that were ignored by educators and administrators opened fire in a Parkland, Florida high school, killing 17, and wounding 17 more.

The duration of Ellroy’s Denver film series also served as a kind of postscript, like those you might find at the conclusion to one of the Demon Dog’s quartets or trilogies. Several notable individuals from Ellroy’s past met their end concurrent with the tenure of the series…

L.A. Confidential director Curtis Hanson died on September 20th, 2016 at age 71. The previous evening, Ellroy screened Nick Ray’s In a Lonely Place, and I mentioned to Ellroy how Hanson had showed the film to Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce to prepare them for their roles in L.A. Confidential.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, a background figure in American Tabloid, died at 90 on November 25, 2016.  Cuba’s Castro era would effectively end almost 18 months later with the April, 2018 confirmation of Miguel Diaz-Canel as the country’s first non-Castro president since 1976.

Accordion virtuoso Dick Contino died on April 17, 2017 at age 87. Ellroy, who would make Contino the protagonist of one of the Demon Dog’s best novellas, (“Dick Contino’s Blues”) first discovered the legendary musician on television as a child, oddly parallel to how I would be introduced to Ellroy many years later. As an even stranger linkage to these events, I just happened to be sitting next to Ellroy when he and I both learned, on April 24, 2017, of Contino’s passing.  It seems rather appropriate that the film that evening was Jules Dassin’s 1955 French heist Rififi, which centers on a soundless (and yet oddly orchestral) heist, and later includes an obligatory catchy theme song to justify its title.    

Fats Domino, whose popular 1956 recording of “Blueberry Hill” was the inspiration for the title of Ellroy’s third Lloyd Hopkins novel, Suicide Hill, died on October 24, 2017, at 89. I asked Ellroy if he heard about Domino’s death, and he said no. Later, the Demon Dog signed my Suicide Hill hardcover “To Jason—Viva Fats Domino!”

Charles Manson, who appears briefly in Killer on the Road and whom Ellroy often references in his wild Demon Dog introductions (“These are books for the whole fucking family… if the name of your family is the Charles Manson Family!”), died from cardiac arrest on November 19, 2017 at 83.

In May 2018, a 17-year-old repeatedly bullied by both students and teachers, shot and killed 8 students and two teachers at a Sante Fe, Texas high school.  

Ellroy’s post film discussions were often my favorite component of the Demon Dog’s film screenings. Though Ellroy rarely watched the films with us, he was more than able to discuss each vividly, often telling hilarious anecdotes about the cast and crew. The conversation often zipped on and off the main theme rapidamente, as Ellroy told us of his associations with Hollywood elites and attendant hangers on, often punctuating his narrative with impromptu impressions of everyone from Harry Belafonte (“DAY-O!”) to Fred Otash (“rawrawraw-FAGSNIGGERSJEWS-rawrawraw!”).

I would often ask Ellroy about fellow writers, extracting even more stories about the Demon Dog’s encounters with book biz heavyweights Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, Michael Crichton and Patricia Cornwell, among others.

At times, Ellroy was surrounded by more than 30 patrons, at other times the turnout for his series was so dismal, he angrily refused to meet with us afterwards. I hold the Alamo Drafthouse responsible for this. The Alamo unfortunately never did much to promote Ellroy’s series beyond a brief whisper on Facebook or a microscopic two line announcement in the Denver lefty rag Westword a far cry from how the theater dropped its pants whenever anything from Star Wars or Marvel Comics came to town.

Ellroy can come off as brash and rudely unpredictable to many people unaccustomed to his Demon Dog persona. Thus, on several occasions, he found himself amid a roomful of attendees scared shitless to ask him a question.  “Someone ask me a question!” he would taunt them, glancing menacingly around like a cornered beast.  Often, I would break the silence.

On one occasion, following Gordon Douglas’ THEM!, I was literally the only patron who stayed for Ellroy’s discussion.  I asked him that night if there were any silent films he liked.  “No,” he replied sharply.  “I hate reading subtitles…”  An intriguing statement given the numerous foreign films the Demon Dog introduced.  On that same evening, there were several teenagers in the bar’s opposite corner huddled together and totally preoccupied with their (stupid) smartphones. I remarked to Ellroy how astonishing it was that not one of them cared that a living literary legend was in the room.

Ellroy does not like to read or see published work about himself, and has nothing but contempt for anything Internet related. When you’re with him, you get the sense that the Demon Dog’s carefully constructed world of cultural creation is his most precious personal asset, evident by his ferociously overarching reaction to those who dare interrupt him. (“Brother! Brother! Brother! Lemme finish!”).

In what turned out to be the series’ final film, Don Siegel’s 1973 neo-noir Charley Varrick follows a small time crook who robs a bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico, and later realizes the nondescript branch bank is really a drop site for mob money. With a Mafia hitman on his trail, the crafty Varrick frames the bank’s mobbed-up president and fakes his own death, eventually escaping with the money.  The film’s narrative and southwestern locale clearly served as an inspiration for Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, which proceeds in nearly the same manner (though McCarthy’s version concludes with a far more haunting ambiguity).

Whether by chance or design, Ellroy—ever the mystic—ended his venerable series concurrent with the arrival of a summer blood moon… an event mystically associated with commencements and culminations.

Ellroy has since told me he’ll likely hold a 2019 release event for This Storm at Denver’s Tattered Cover Book Store.

 

Jason Carter

             

 

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