James Ellroy: Clandestine

“I know you’re a smart-mouth young cop.  I know that’s a roscoe and handcuffs under your sweater.  I know the kind of things you guys do that you think people don’t know about.  I know guys like you die hungry.”

Ellroy’s book promises something too perfect in its first pages.  Our narrator tells us about “the wonder”: a fascination with the depravity, the perversity of the streets.  He lets us know that this is the story of the “last season of his youth”, a rite of passage, where he learns that running alongside “hellishly driven lives in clandestine transit was the wonder–as well as my ultimate redemption”.  These pages promise something unusual: a sort of pulp novel that combines the “literary” quality and grasp of The Great Gatsby.

Like Ellroy himself, the novel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  It slowly fades into a dense-plotted thriller that goes from serial killer yarn to family melodrama and ends with the kind of sappy touch that bares no resemblance to the stunning prologue mentioned above.

When you listen to Ellroy, the supposed “demon dog” of American fiction, his attitude and claims create the image of a recluse bad-ass, a man-pervert who peeps and hoots and barks at the sight or mention of attractive dames, a writer who reads no other writers but Hammett and Cain and a few who meet his standard of acceptable.  Of course, this build-up disentagrates too along with his story.  Ellroy, through his protagonist, seems actually very tender towards women (this is not a bad thing; it just runs uneven with his perpetuated myth).

In the end, Clandestine and Ellroy through Clandestine come off as soft. I won’t give up on the “demon dog” but I know when he claims to be the greatest crime writer in American fiction, I can have a damn good laugh.


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