Prior to American Tabloid (1995) and the film adaptation of L.A. Confidential (itself a great novel), James Ellroy was a cult name. He’d written novels for quite some time, but he was one of those guys who always seemed to bark “back there,” on the edge of the mainstream — and to hate it and like it there. To date I’ve read six of his books, including American Tabloid, the novel for which he won Time Magazine’s Book of the Year.
Tabloid is a strange read. Fast-moving yet overlong, it’s Ellroy at his most amphetamine-y. Isolated sentence by sentence, it’s easy to love. His telegraphic style is a master class in hard-boiled vim. Still, at over approximately 600 pages long, the book does at times grate, and I blame the style. For a book rife with twists, turns and very bad, sometimes interchangeable (thus indistinguishable) men, the constant riffing wears you out.
One last thing. Writers everywhere should study the chapter wherein Ward Littell, a button lawman loyal to few but himself, blows up a house with a safe in it. The scene is a doozy.