ames Ellroy: America‘s foremost crime fiction writer. He ‘re-wrote the book‘ with the LA Quartet: The Black Dahlia. The Big Nowhere. LA Confidential. White Jazz. Hollywood filmed LA Confidential. It was the only book adaptation Ellroy liked. It won Oscars. Ellroy re- wrote American history l958—63 with American Tabloid. part one of the Underworld USA trilogy. His new book. The Cold Six Thousand. continues the secret history of America (63—68) in the wake of the John F. Kennedy assassination. Ellroy. clipped speech lapsing into deep southern Californian draw]: ‘The Cold Six Thousand is no longer crime fiction. American Tabloid is not crime fiction. This is historical fiction. White Jazz was my last crime novel: [‘11 never write another one. I’ve taken the form as far as it can go. Now my job is to take the historical novel as far as it can go. I couldn’t have gotten to the historical novel without having been skilled as a crime novelist first. That‘s what I cut my teeth on. That’s how I learned.’ Just the facts on Ellroy: born Los Angeles. March 1948. 6ft 3in lean. lvy League-style dress code with close-cropped

greying hair. Penetrating stare. brooding. Calls himself

Demon Dog. Happily married to second wife. journalist Helen Knode. Owns an English bull terrier called Dudley (the name of LA Quartet’s corrupt police Captain). Lives in Kansas City. Votes Republican: voted for George W. Bush. Watches film noir from l945—58. Doesn't read other writers much.

His father. ‘Big’ Lee Ellroy. divorced James' alcoholic. promiscuous mother. Geneva Hilliker. when the boy was six years old. Mother was raped and murdered when Ellroy was ten years old. Wrote about his personal investigation of the still unsolved crime conducted with Los Angeles County Sheriff Department homicide detective Bill Stoner (to whom The Cold Six Thousand is dedicated) in the non- fiction book My Dark Places. Wrote about another. similar. more famous murder: actress Elizabeth Short. aka The Black Dahlia. aka ‘the torso murder’ victim. Used to steal women’s panties. Was a compulsive masturbator. Served county jail time for shoplifting. Used to be a boozehound and a speed freak. Since 1977. no more drinking, no more drugs.

Ellroy's past feeds his fiction. Characteristics: complex narratives. heavy use of sex and violence. obsessive attention to detail. black humour. Protagonists: cops and killers. sharp-eyed, doggedly determined. morally ambiguous. First book: Brown ’s Requiem (1981). a private eye novel. Not like Raymond Chandler (Ellroy: ‘just a lightweight’); tougher. like Dashiell Hammett. Second book. Clandestine (1982). marked beginning of Ellroy‘s interest in 40s/50s Los Angeles underworld. also in the police procedural genre, influenced by ex- LAPD cop writer Joseph Wambaugh.

The Underworld USA trilogy: influenced by historical fictions Don DeLillo’s Libra. The Cold Six Thousand: 71 1 pages long. dense. Took four years to write. Freehand. Ellroy can‘t use a computer. Repeat: he says it’s no longer crime fiction. but the ever more refined language dates from his earlier books in that genre. Reads like police detective case notes. Sample: ‘He slid. He fell. He hit gravel. He ate alley grit. He smelled cordite. He licked cigar butts and dirt.‘

Or on the Kennedys: ‘He hated Jack. He knew Jack. Scrutiny undermined image. Jack was glib. Jack had pizzazz. Jack had no rectitude. Bobby defined rectitude. Bobby lived rectitude. Bobby punished bad men.‘

Ellroy again: ‘Every novel. every narrative line requires a certain type of language. This is a very blunt story; it’s the secret history of America in the l960s. It’s very much an expansion of the language I first utilised in American Tabloid. [Argumentz genesis of this language found earlier in White Jazz] It‘s a profane language. it’s a racist language because the book deals with racism in the l960s. The language is meant to complement the thoughts of the three individual characters - Bondurant. Littell. Tedrow who carry the book.’

Pete Bondurant: CIA-connected heavy: murderer. wire-

tapper. Anti-Castro. anti-Kennedy’s.

Ward J. Littell: lawyer to the Las Vegas Mob. lawyer to Howard Hughes. ex-FBI but still works for FBl boss J. Edgar Hoover.

Wayne Tedrow Jr: racist Las Vegas cop.

Ellroy: ‘I already knew. going in. what the historical elements of the book would be: Howard Hughes~ conquest of Las Vegas. the FBl‘s war on the civil rights movement. the clean-up of the Kennedy assassination conspiracy. heroin trafficking from Vietnam. heroin trafficking in Las Vegas and the antics of the Mob from the years 1963—68. Already being somewhat versed in that. my two researchers were told to get me facts. get me chronologies so that I don‘t write myself into factual error.

Those are the facts. but what about the fiction? Bondurant. Littell and Tedrow share page space with real- life figures: Hoover. Hughes. Bobby Kennedy. Jimmy Hoffa. Martin Luther King.

Ellroy: ‘The one question I’ve never answered on American Tabloid and on this book is what‘s real and what's not.‘

Truth a sliding scale‘.’ Poker-faced: ‘If I can make you believe it. then I‘ve done my job.’

Where does the truth fit in‘.’ ‘Everything is seen subjectively. When you’re in Littell‘s view point. you only think

from Littell‘s perspective. Ditto Bondurant and

O C o l d S Tedrow. What I give you is the human

infrastructure of

s d i S n 0 great public events.

That‘s its own

1 e r C r verisimilitude. right

there. You see these

I . . 3 l: ,h 3‘. lot l on . I l 1 {Ellis “gluing

chooses word]

r e attended these

various events had

he I‘ one . interior lives. had

loves. had loathings.

had political motivations. had psychological

motivations. That gives you a perspective on it that no amount of historical fact could ever achieve.‘

Ellroy has written portraits of America in the 40s. the 50s. the 60s. Corrupt America. racist America. America in social upheaval. Will he portray modern America? Rodney King. Waco. Clinton and Lewinski. election tampering in Florida?

‘I will never write a contemporary novel. I only want to recreate 20th century America through fiction. [Conflicting case note: Ellroy’s story. The Plague Season. a thriller set in the lead-up to the Rodney King beating and subsequent LA riots in 1992. is being filmed by director Ron Shelton] Now that l have finished The Cold Six Thousqu I’ll be going on to write the sequel. which covers the years 68—72. When that’s finished I‘m going to write a novel about Warren Harding's presidency and America in the 2()s.’

Jump forward to 25 April. 2001: Ellroy will come to Scotland. Glasgow, Royal Concert Hall. He will read from The Cold Six Thousand: ‘It’s wonderful to come to Great Britain. because you’ve got a foreign country where everyone speaks English. So it’s the best of both possible worlds. I like to perfomi. I like to express my gratitude to the readers. I like to meet the readers. sign the books. I know how to read for dramatic effect. It’s important for me to put on a good show.‘

Those are the facts.

James Ellroy reads at Borders Books event, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Wed 25 Apr; The Cold Six Thousand is published by Century on Thu 19 Apr priced £15.99; Arena documentary on BBC1 , Thu 26 Apr.

12—26 Apr 2001 THE LIST 1 1