Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Friday, September 5, 2014 at 6:05 AM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments
  • Print

James Ellroy’s ‘Perfidia’: dark doings on the eve of WWII

James Ellroy’s dark new novel, “Perfidia,” returns the “L.A. Confidential” author to the City of Angels — this time, it follows the LAPD as it investigates a murder committed on the eve of Pearl Harbor. Ellroy appears Friday, Sept. 12, at the University Book Store


Special to The Seattle Times

Author appearance

James Ellroy

The author of “Perfidia” will appear at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-3400 or ubookstore.com). He will sign “Perfidia” at 3 p.m. Friday, Sept. 12, Seattle Mystery Bookshop, 117 Cherry St.; free (206-587-5737 or www.seattlemystery.com).

advertising

James Ellroy can be ornery. “I hate hipsters, I hate liberals, I hate rock ’n’ rollers, I hate the counterculture, I hate movie people,” he said in an interview promoting his new novel, “Perfidia.” He also hates Presidents Clinton and Obama and has no use for the modern world.

Ellroy’s mother was murdered in Los Angeles when Ellroy was 10. The case was unsolved. “The Black Dahlia,” the first novel in Ellroy’s LA Quartet, was based on the unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short, which bore some similarities to the murder of Ellroy’s mother. Short’s body was found in an abandoned lot, mutilated, severed in half and posed. The press went crazy. Ellroy blended the facts of the case with fictional police officers and his own theories, which resulted in his 1987 breakout novel.

Three more novels completed Ellroy’s LA Quartet: “The Big Nowhere,” “LA Confidential” and “White Jazz.” Two of the books — “The Black Dahlia” and “LA Confidential” — were made into movies, and Ellroy became a literary celebrity of sorts. He followed the LA Quartet with The Underworld Trilogy: “American Tabloid,” “The Cold Six Thousand” and “Blood’s a Rover.” Writing about crime, corruption, greed, lust, brutality, drugs, madness and all the dark corners of the human psyche, Ellroy commingles fictional characters and incidents with historical characters and incidents, creating a weird pastiche of American life. His style, like his subject matter, is coarse.

“Perfidia” is a prequel to the LA Quartet and the Underworld Trilogy. Ellroy introduces us to younger versions of the characters who made him famous. Your appreciation of Ellroy’s unabashed attempt at the Great American Novel will depend, in part, on your familiarity with his oeuvre. I’ve read three of the seven books “Perfidia” riffs on and felt I was missing some pieces.

Still, it was a great read.

On the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Japanese-American family is found dead. Either they committed a ritualistic suicide, or they were murdered. Los Angeles Police Department Police Chief William H. Parker from “LA Confidential,” who was the actual police chief of the LAPD from 1950 until 1966, appears as Captain William H. Parker and oversees the investigation. Hideo Ashida, a police chemist, and the only Japanese-American employee of LAPD, is assigned to work the case.

Kay Lake, from “The Black Dahlia,” appears as a 21-year-old adventuress learning her way around LA. “I wanted to run away to Los Angeles and become someone else there ... I was equal parts innocence and lunatic grit.” Kay’s chapters, written in first-person diary form, were among the most engaging for me, illuminating the motives and desires of the men who are intertwined by the investigation.

Beginning on Dec. 6, 1941, and unfolding in 23 days of real-time narration, “Perfidia” is a murder mystery, a subversive historical novel, and a dark meditation on power, politics, race and justice.

Perfidia, a Spanish word meaning treachery or betrayal, is the title of a song from the big-band era. Ellroy used the song in “The Black Dahlia,” and it obviously still speaks to him. With “Perfidia,” he repeatedly returns to the scene of the crime.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist is the author of “Carnival Desires” and other novels.



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Autos news and research

Mechanic double-checks his air-bag work

Mechanic double-checks his air-bag work


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►