L.A. Writers: James Ellroy’s Dark Places

James Ellroy, Age 10, with His Murdered Mother

James Ellroy, Age 10, and His Murdered Mother

Given his childhood, it is no wonder that the vision of crime novelist James Ellroy is full of dark places. At the age of 10, he experienced being orphaned when his divorced mother, Jean, was raped and murdered. To this date, the crime has not been solved. But it has resonated through the work of its littlest victim.

To date, I have read seven of his novels, most of which are set in Los Angeles. You can believe me when I say that the author’s L.A., the sun doesn’t shine much. He is perhaps most famous for his L.A. Quartet, which consists of:

  • The Black Dahlia (1987)
  • The Big Nowhere (1988)
  • L.A. Confidential (1990)
  • White Jazz (1992)

As a reviewer for National Public Radio wrote, “His L.A. might not be a city of angels, but the devils he conjures up tell one hell of a tale.”

At times, Ellroy twists the English language into a strange rhythm, as if he were the American Louis Ferdinand Céline. Some of his books, such as White Jazz and American Tabloid, are sometimes difficult to read because of their driving, staccato style. But the energy keeps you moving along. When you are finished with one of his books, you need to relax a bit.

I just finished reading Blood on the Moon (1984), which is set on an axis from West Hollywood (“Boys’ Town”) to Silverlake, with occasional visits to the LAPD’s Parker Center downtown. The novel has a fine local feel that is the hallmark of a real L.A. writer. He may have set some stories elsewhere, but L.A. is somehow the real center of his oeuvre.

Below is a picture of the writer as he is today:

James Ellroy Today

James Ellroy Today

I met the author several years ago when he spoke at the Los Angeles Times Book Festival back when it was still being held at UCLA. I remember his strange description of how he spent his hours alone in the dark, carrying on imaginary conversations with women who were not in the room with him.

Dark. Strange. Indeed—but also brilliant.