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SHAKEDOWN by James Ellroy


by James Ellroy

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2012
Publisher: Byliner

Need paint peeled? Skin flensed? Zombies repelled? Expose the problem to Ellroy’s scabrous, excoriating look behind the curtains of golden-era Los Angeles and presto—solved.

The big question is this: Is the novella a fit form for Ellroy (The Hilliker Curse, 2010, etc.)? He packs a tremendous dose of venom, after all, into a page. His latest outing warns of this at the outset, an interlocutor speaking from purgatory, that most Catholic of old-fashioned venues in the afterlife, where “guys like me—caustic cads that capitalized on a sick system and caused catastrophe” spend a few eons in the great big waiting room in the sky. (Anomic agents of alliteration, too.) Up on earth, it’s the time of the Black Dahlia and LA Confidential, a time when everybody in Hollywood is most definitely up to no good while making fortunes pretending to be squeaky-clean: Liberace, that “fey fucker,” does what, well, what Liberace does. Ditto Van Johnson, the “Semen Demon.” Burt Lancaster’s a sadist, Hitchcock a peeper, Natalie Wood “rumored to be ensconced at a dyke slave den near Hollywood High.” It’s to be noted that all these figures are dead, for the dead cannot sue for libel. All play a part in Ellroy’s vision of the nastiness that underlies the ordinary world, a Blue Velvet-ish kind of place where no one, especially a cop, approaches purity and where someone who bears the moniker Bondage Bob is about the closest thing to normal that there is, even if old Bondage Bob hangs out with Jean-Paul Sartre. By those lights, purgatory is closer than we think, its entrance some rummy den down on Sunset, the sign over the door a slogan from late in the book: “Fuck—my ass hurts!”

Most definitely not nice, though if you like your language salty enough to float on without ever hitting water, then this is just the thing. Just don’t let the person next to you on the bus or train catch a glimpse of what you’re reading.