Thursday, May 8, 2014

Listened to: "Clandestine" by James Ellroy

Listened to: Clandestine by James Ellroy, 1982, 2013 audio by HighBridge Co.

1982?  Dang, older than I realized.  Good narration.

I may have read this one before.  Many parts of the plot are familiar but Ellroy's '50s LA novels criss-cross so much of the same ground.

Fred Underhill is a LAPD beat cop in 1951.  He and his fat, alcoholic, Medal of Honor winning partner, Wacky, prowl the streets and Fred is addicted to "The Wonder".  Fred is out for experience and thrills and he defines "The Wonder" as the "wonderful, elliptical, mysterious stuff we're never going to know completely."

Fred and partner meet a film producer while golfing.  Fred as an ace golfer and he and the film producer make a killing on bets.  Fred meets the producer's daughter, Lorna, who is an Assistant DA and Fred is smitten.  Fred is ambitious.  Fred is a big-time skirt chaser.  Fred and Wacky respond to a bloody murder scene.  Fred does some on-scene sleuthing of the woman's pad.

Wacky is murdered in a shootout with robbers. Fred angers his lieutenant and is sent to South L.A.  Fred makes the best of the detail, makes a lot of collars, and when another woman is murdered he senses a link to the previous murder.  The murdered woman is one of Fred's past one night stand's (that we observed a few pages back).  Fred wants justice.  Fred works off the books and identifies a suspect.  Fred presents his evidence (legally and illegally obtained) and is assigned to Lt. Dudley Smith.

Dudley's squad works the case.  Underhill works the Asst. DA and falls in love.  Dudley's squad kidnaps the suspect, isolates the suspect, liquors up the suspect, and beats the suspect to a written confession.  The case falls apart with a witness claiming suspect innocent.  Suspect commits suicide in jail.  Fred Underhill takes the fall and is painted as a Red.

Underhill marries the DA.  Things jump ahead to '55 where Fred and Lorna's marriage is on the rocks, Fred has moved out, and there is another murder.  Fred sees a link with the '51 murder he screwed up.  Fred prints up some fake ID, poses as an insurance investigator, and starts to dig.
He goes to El Monte, Hollywood, Long Beach.  He travels to Milwaukee, Tunnel City, WI and outside Green Bay.  He bluffs and lies his way into homes and interviews.  His discoveries tie in people from '51 and the revelations stun Fred.

Fred takes action and there is a weird and unrealistic happy ending.

1.  Ellroy's personal history infuses everything.  The second half of the book is a straight take off of Ellroy's mother's murder.  The dead woman was a nurse and killed on a night out.  Location along a school in El Monte, discovered by a Scout Troop, persons of interest, a gangly son with a deadbeat father.  Ellroy's alter self is a real messed up kid.  The dead mom was trampy drug addict.  The father is a serial killing crime lord pushing morphine and stolen goods.  Fred visits Tunnel City where Ellroy's mom was from.
2.  I laughed out loud when Lt. Dudley Smith shows up.  I was waiting for him.  He is an evil nut.
3.  Ellroy's novels are all the more interesting after reading his first autobiography.  I've not gotten to his second one, Hilliker Curse (only 4 checkouts in 3.5 years).  I suppose the books can be thought as self-indulgent. Me, me, me.  But, they are fascinating.  Ellroy's ego seems to be huge.  But, after such a lousy childhood I suppose that ego could be fairly fragile as well.  Heck, I'm just guessing from a far removed position.
4.  Ellroy never skips on the investigative grind.  Scouring the City for witnesses.  Reading and re-reading and re-reading all the police reports available.  Asking questions over and over.  Minutely searching crime scenes and suspect apartments.  Tracking down known associates and past associates and employment and residences.
5.  Gun nerd gripe.  Revolvers with safeties.
6.  One of Ellroy's crime plots with a guy pulling sneaky strings and setting things up.  The hero takes a long time to discover what happened.  The criminal is always hiding in plain sight.  I really enjoy Ellroy's reveals.
7.  This does not have his later plots where the weak sister and alpha cop switch roles over the length of the book.

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