A few things up front: this can’t really be a proper review of James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover as I’m less than a 100 pages into it and its over a 600 pages long. So far though, the book is fantastic, and has completely ameliorated my mistaken impression of what, exactly, Ellroy is doing. You see, I had long thought of Ellroy, author of L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia, as a writer of potboiler genre-fiction–which is to say I never considered him a “serious” writer. But when advanced press for Blood’s a Rover came out, I couldn’t help but ask for a review copy. The idea of an alternate history of the late sixties/early seventies, set to a backdrop of black militant movements, Cuban revolution, and heroin dealing, complete with historical figures like Howard Hughes and J. Edgar Hoover seemed pretty cool.
The opening scene of Blood’s a Rover, a breathtaking armored car robbery, quickly establishes the book’s tense, terse pacing telegraphed through Ellroy’s signature simple sentences (his style: subject-verb-object, repeat–with the occasional clause or adjective thrown in for flair). Ellroy’s rhetorical style perfectly matches his plot, as sentence after sentence hammers away depictions of lurid, unrelenting violence. In a sense, Blood’s comes across as the evil twin of Thomas Pynchon’s recent novel Inherent Vice. Both novels threaten to crush the reader under the densities of their plots, yet, where Pynchon allows his hippie detective Doc Sportello’s marijuana haze to infiltrate (and thus lighten) the novel’s discourse, Ellroy’s technique simply compounds and confounds in its ugliness. But don’t be mistaken–Blood’s is a thrilling book, with tightly-drawn characters doing really mean and interesting things. There’s even a sardonic sense of humor under the punchy grisliness of it all. If Pynchon’s universe propels on the paranoia of not knowing but sensing that the Powers That Be are conspiring against you, Ellroy makes it expressly clear that, yes, a sinister cabal of underworld agents are running the show. And not for the better. Even the novel’s hero Wayne Tedrow Jr. is pretty much a creep (or whatever word you want to pick for a heroin runner who kills his dad in a bid for his step mom’s affection)–but he’s a fascinating creep, and in Ellroy’s plotting, one you want to root for.
So, if you’ve had any passing interest in this book, you probably want to go ahead and pick it up. I’ll do a full, proper review when I finish it, but for now, I want to repent for my erstwhile (and unfounded) prejudices against Ellroy. Makes me wonder what other writers I’ve dismissed out of genre prejudice.
Blood’s a Rover is now available in hardback from Knopf.