Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Staff Recommendations and Reviews

We will be providing staff book recommendations and book reviews on our blog, if for no other reason than to prove that we do read and think about books.

The first recommendation is for Blood’s A Rover, by the internationally famous local author, Mr. James Ellroy, who is also locally infamous (by his own admission) for shoplifting from Chevaliers Books, probably during the four year period – 1968-1972 – which is the subject of this book, the third stand-alone novel in the USA Underworld trilogy, following American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand.

You might consider it part of a tetralogy, the most critical book being My Dark Places, Mr. Ellroy’s autobiography, an extraordinary, gut wrenching, mindblowing work. If you live in our ‘hood, you must read this book, because in Ellroy’s life, it was a ‘hood.

Blood’s a Rover is “Political Noir”, or L.A./Ellmore noir, with its rat-a-tat machine gun pacing, its speedfreak intensity, its relentless violence and abusive, hate-filled language. But this book is also Western Hemisphere noir – jumping from L.A. to Vegas, Haiti, Cuba, Miami, D.C., rural Mississippi, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic. Not to worry – each short chapter is identified with date and location.

The springboards for the book are the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK, and a bizarre armored car heist in South L.A. involving ink sprayed millions and sacks of emeralds.

Oddly, Vietnam and the politics of the war are missing. So this is pseudo history with a multitude of fictional characters - Wayne Tedrow, the ex-Mormon, ex-cop, chemist, daddy killer, stepmom lover; Dwight Holly, son of KKK, thug of J. Edgar Hoover; Marsh Bowen, off and on again LAPD cop, closeted homosexual, black militant infiltrator; Scotty Bennett, LAPD at its brutal worst; Joan Rosen Klein, the Red Goddess, stalinistic feminist and Susan Sontag look alike, longed for unreasonably by all the male characters; Karen, a married militant Quaker mommy, lover of Dwight, friend of Joan; Celia aka Gretchen, a Dominican feminist militant and bisexual lover of Joan and Sam Giancano as well as hundreds of others.

Minor characters abound – Black Panther wannabes, greedy special ops, former and current Tonton Macoutes, seedy private investigators, alcoholic wheelmen, hatemongering hustlers and grifters of every stripe.

The only fictional character, na├»ve as he is, who rings true, is Don Crutchfield, the peeper, panty sniffer, high school dropout, P.I. wannabe. Crutch is the crutches of the book, its omniscient literary Peeping Tom. Crutch is Ellmore. Everyone else is the shards of Ellmore’s brain on speed.

The book works because of the “real” characters – “the old girl”, J. Edgar Hoover, Nixon, Bebe Rebozo, Hubert Humphrey, Howard Hughes, Sal Mineo, Papa Doc, Trujillo, etc., etc. They are the true insanity of the era, and Ellroy has captured each and every one of them as though he were there, eavesdropping.

This is NOT your hippie flower child 1968, but if you lived through it, no matter how drug addled you may have been, it will all come back to you. And if you didn’t live through it, all the more reason to read this alternative history.

Words of warning: Reading Ellroy’s 600+ page book leisurely would be like watching a bomb in slow motion. It’s repetitious and wild and exhausting, a speed trip. If you forget something en route, don’t stop, you’ll be reminded again and again, like a recurring nightmare.

-Liz Newstat


  1. Being a longtime fan of Ellroy, it's very hard to pass up this book, especially after reading this action packed review by Liz Newstat. If the book proves to be just half of the stimulation of her review, it would still be worth the reading!

    How do I order "Blood's A Rover", and also order Camelot's Kitchen? Do you provide an 'order books' site!

    Patty Keaweamahi

  2. Sounds wild -- and the review is immense. Thanks, Liz.