Ellroy, master of California noir (Perfidia, 2014, etc.), serves up a heaping helping of mayhem in this second volume of his Second L.A. Quartet.
If there’s a constant in Ellroy’s storytelling, apart from snappy prose, it’s that there’s a fine and often indistinguishable line between good guys and bad guys: His cops are dirty, his villains sometimes blessed with noble virtues. There’s not much nobility in this new novel, though, which picks up after Pearl Harbor in the uneasy months when Nazis are floating around on the streets of Tijuana and LA, soldiers and sailors are battling zoot-suiters, Father Coughlin is sputtering anti-Semitic propaganda across the line on Mexican radio, and Japanese-Americans are being rounded up for internment. But even the beleaguered nisei take time to cast out a few slurs at the Chinese for whom they’re confused, while the LA constabulary scours the streets. “How come we’re not rousting the dagos and the Krauts?” wonders one, even as everyone avoids the elephant in the room, a shipment of gold that’s gone missing. It being Ellroy, there are tangled storylines aplenty as well as a large dramatis personae, many of whom will be familiar to readers of Perfidia. About the best of them is the Japanese-American police investigator Hideo Ashida, who harbors no illusions about his clientele: “Lustful men and corrupt women. It was ghastly business.” Lead player Elmer Jackson, a world-weary flatfoot, has his good points, too, but he’d rather be back in vice than on the Alien Squad, where it "was Japs twelve days a week." Mix in Mary Jane–dealing starlets, sleazy informants, synarchist gangsters, “cops in the Silver Shirts and German-American Bund,” Orson Welles and Walter Pidgeon in a decidedly non–Hays Code film sequence, and a thousand other threads, and you’ve got a raucous tale that will likely leave you in need of a shower and a Disney film.
A gritty, absorbing novel that proves once again that Ellroy is the rightful heir of Chandler, Cain, and Hammett.