49. Blood’s a Rover: James Ellroy

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49. Blood’s a Rover: James Ellroy

Post  Patguy on Wed Dec 30, 2009 2:13 am

“Dwight drove print shop to print shop. He worked off a phone-book list. A pro printed this shit. It was print-shop quality.

“It was raining. He’d hit sixteen print shops. He displayed his hate shit and ruined moods en masse. His badge and nerves induced freakouts. Numbnuts clerks flashed the peace sign.

“Mr. Hoover dug the peace sign. It was the ‘footprint of the American chicken.’”

The third and final book in Ellroy’s Underworld USA trilogy, following American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. Tabloid is one of my favorite novels, but Six Thousand was a major disappointment. This one falls in the middle, fortunately closer to the Tabloid end of the scale.

The action covers the years between the MLK/RFK assassinations and Watergate, and contains the usual Ellroy mix of fictional and real characters. The action moves between Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, with various side trips. This is all familiarly Ellroy, but it’s much fresher here than it was in Six Thousand. What’s new is an increased focus on women characters—well, two women characters, and they’re pretty much the same, but still, this is Ellroy here. Left-wing politics get more screen time than usual too, among the expected corrupt and reactionary bad behavior. Hideous violence is mixed in with hilariously offensive humor and a little soppy romanticism about women. Racism is omnipresent, but in an unexpected multiplicity of forms—again, it’s not quite the usual Ellroy: we have a black man as a protagonist, and time spent on a meaningful interracial relationship. Race and left-wing politics are dealt with seriously, and not as distractions for the bad white men who are our heroes. I would hesitate to call this a mellowing of Ellroy; it’s probably just a literary way of reflecting the changing attitudes of the sixties and seventies.

For all the usual shocks and violence, as the culmination of the series, it’s a little muted, a little wistful for vanished times and women. This is an attitude that’s always a little present in Ellroy, but has been growing stronger ever since at least My Dark Places. Compared to the end of American Tabloid, with its orgy of blood, betrayal, political destruction and the death of a president, Blood’s a Rover signs out almost silently, the action having moved further and further away from the corrupt corridors of power that will lead beyond the scope of this book, to Watergate and all the other rottenness of the seventies and eighties and on and on.

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