When divorced mother Jean Hilliker
was discovered murdered under lurid circumstances in 1958, it came as no surprise that her young son James
grew up a bit disturbed. Sent to live with his alcoholic accountant father, a man with "a 12 (to 16) inch schvantz " who had purportedly once "poured the pork to Rita Hayworth", James Ellroy became obsessed with his mother's murder. Some of this obsession was transferred to police procedure, detective novels and especially the spectacularly grisly murder case of Elizabeth Short, also known as the Black Dahlia
Ellroy spent most of his late teens and early adulthood abusing drugs, alcohol, and on breaking and entering sprees for the purpose of sniffing panties. Eventually, he was able to turn many of his fascinations into a somewhat decent career as a writer of detective fiction
. Always a fan of the more hidden, brutal, and transgressive aspects of crime and law enforcement, his books however never made a serious impression until one of his novels, at 800-900 pages was rejected due to its excessive length. Instead of cutting out any of the actual story or subplots, he decided to jettison all extraneous vocabulary, giving his work a harsh, stuccato, yet almost rythmic flow. This unique style was inaugurated with his now famous LA Quartet novels, which made him, in his own words "....a master of fiction. I am also the greatest crime novelist who ever lived. I am to the crime novel in specific what Tolstoy is to the Russian novel and what Beethoven is to music."
While some would argue
with that description, his work from that point on, set in the much
more brutal than one would think 1940s to 1960s LA, dealing mostly with dirty cops,corrupt pols and wayward hitmen as the protagonists (before Quentin Tarentino made it fashionable) have made him one of the top crime novelists of our time. Movie adaptations of his work run the gamut from the awesome LA Confidential to the turgid Black Dahlia, but his LA Quartet novels, which includes both the Black Dahlia
and LA Confidential
as well as The Big Nowhere
and White Jazz
were quite successful commercially if not critically. He has also written extensively on his mother
, true crime and his follow up to the LA Quartet, the Underworld USA Trilogy does for national politics what his LA Quartet did for any remaining hagiography of the Camelot era with no less than J. Edgar Hoover as the Big Bad. He now plans a prequel series to the LA Quartet set during WWII.