Picking up roughly where American Tabloid (1995) left off, Ellroy’s big, ambitious new novel, bristling with violence, rockets through the 1960s naming names and weaving a terrifyingly believable tale of linked conspiracies in the three assassinations that shook America to the core.
This is Plymouth Rock turned over after three centuries to expose the creatures wriggling in the dark beneath the surface of the American Dream. Ellroy begins with JFK’s murder and cover-up, which inadvertently involve Wayne Tendrow, a Las Vegas cop with a wobbly moral compass and a love/hate relationship with his wealthy, controlling, right-wing, racist father. Wayne encounters two characters reappearing from American Tabloid: Ward Littell, ex–FBI agent, lawyer to the mob and to Howard Hughes, is a disillusioned closet liberal described as “lugging a Jesus Cross in his sewer”; Pete Bondurant, ex-CIA and current mob enforcer, is rabidly anti-Communist and anti-Castro. Through the perspectives and actions of these three men, the story tracks the complex convergence of interests among organized crime, the right-wing establishment, the KKK, and elements of the CIA and FBI that led to the three assassinations. Intertwined subplots describe Howard Hughes’s takeover of Vegas hotels and casinos, CIA trafficking in heroin during the Vietnam War, Cuban gunrunning, and covert FBI manipulation of the civil-rights movement. The large cast includes a wonderfully arch and sinister J. Edgar Hoover, Jack Ruby, Guy Banister, Sal Mineo, Bayard Rustin, Sonny Liston, James Earl Ray, Sirhan Sirhan, and several mobsters, real and imagined. Ellroy’s style and pace are blistering as always, although it must be said that the unrelenting and occasionally gratuitous violence at the periphery of his main story sometimes undercuts the larger horrors he describes.
A chilling tapestry of fact and fiction, an exhilarating read, and an informed, deeply disturbing speculation regarding the ties between criminals and America’s shadow government.