James Ellroy: Books & Quotes

Instructor: Summer Stewart

Summer has taught creative writing and sciences at the college level. She holds an MFA in Creative writing and a B.A.S. in English and Nutrition

American author James Ellroy has written several crime series that are hugely popular around the world. In this lesson, we will talk about some of his most popular book series to see what the hype is all about.

Meet James Ellroy

The Eyes of James Ellroy
ellroy

American crime writer James Ellroy recently said, ''I don't have a TV, cell phone or internet and I find the world untenable.'' Ellroy is often cited as a recluse who refuses to engage with society. Ellroy has written three major crime fiction series, a memoir, dozens of essays, and he is currently working on another book series. For him, writing comes first and he doesn't have time for the potential distractions that rule much of society. Ellroy began writing crime fiction in the 1970s, but he didn't get published until 1981 with the release of Brown's Requiem, which he would use as inspiration to continue writing novels about cops, murder, and mystery. In this lesson, we will learn about some of his best books by looking at the series he wrote, as well as his memoir, My Dark Places.

Books

Since many of Ellroy's books are parts of book series, in this lesson we will look at one series, a singular novel, and his memoir.

Brown's Requiem

James Ellroy's very first novel was Brown's Requiem, which was released in 1981. It features a police officer named Fritz Brown who is hired by a golf caddie to investigate the caddie's sister and the sister's lover. During his investigation, Brown goes down a rabbit hole and learns that the caddie is an arsonist,\ who ends up dead at the hands of his equally shady business partner. It turns out the caddie and his partner, Ranston, were cheating the system to get welfare checks. By the end of the novel, Brown learns that the scam was hushed up by a corrupt cop who Brown then hunts down and kills.

Underworld USA Trilogy

The Underworld USA Trilogy includes American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood's a Rover. The series is set in America from 1958-1973. Each novel has three distinct characters, each of which is given the chance to tell the story from their perspective. Like many of Ellroy's books, these are crime novels that begin with an unsolved crime and involve both shady and genuine characters, with at least one police officer in the mix.

In American Tabloid, the story is told by Pete Bondurant, Kemper Boyd, and Ward J. Littell; the novel focuses on these three cops who get involved with the assassination of J.F.K.

The second book, The Cold Six Thousand is told by Wayne Tedrow, Jr., Ward J. Littell, and Pete Bondurant, and begins just after the JFK assassination. The book uses the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy to set the structure of progression of the story, which continues with the corruption that was introduced in the first book.

The last book, Blood's a Rover features Wayne Tedrow, Jr., Don Crutchfield, and Dwight Holly. The book is set from 1968-1973. The book uses the Black Power Movement, Vietnam War, and the Mafia to fuel the plot.

My Dark Place

My Dark Place is a fascinating book that meshes memoir and fiction together. Ellroy uses the book as a vehicle to investigate the murder of his mother, who was found dead in El Monte, California, in 1958. In the book, Ellroy returns to Los Angeles after a hiatus and hires a brilliant detective to help him gather clues about his mother's murder. Despite their efforts, they weren't able to solve the murder. In the book, Ellroy admits that the death of his mother fueled his need to write crime novels.

Insights into Ellroy's World

Ellroy has never been shy to use his words, both on the page and in interviews. His words give us an insight into his world and what kind of man he is when he isn't selling books.

He's a Recluse

Not only does Ellroy shy away from modern technology, he doesn't care for people other than his wife as well. In an interview, he said, ''I hate hipsters, I hate liberals, I hate rock'n'rollers, I hate the counter-culture, I hate movie people. I want to go somewhere quiet, peaceful and decorous, and be radical in my mind.'' Needless to say, James Ellroy isn't a fan of contemporary culture and because of this, he isolates himself from the world.

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