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L.A. Quartet #3

L.A. Confidential

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Christmas 1951, Los Angeles: a city where the police are as corrupt as the criminals. Six prisoners are beaten senseless in their cells by cops crazed on alcohol. For the three LAPD detectives involved, it will expose the guilty secrets on which they have built their corrupt and violent careers. The novel takes these cops on a sprawling epic of brutal violence and the murderous seedy side of Hollywood. One of the best crime novels ever written, it is the heart of Ellroy's four-novel masterpiece, the LA Quartet, and an example of crime writing at its most powerful.

496 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1990

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About the author

James Ellroy

125 books3,717 followers
James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles in 1948. His L.A. Quartet novels—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—were international best sellers. His novel American Tabloid was Time magazine’s Best Book (fiction) of 1995; his memoir, My Dark Places, was a Time Best Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book for 1996. His novel The Cold Six Thousand was a New York Times Notable Book and a Los Angeles Times Best Book for 2001. Ellroy lives in Los Angeles.

Ellroy is known for a "telegraphic" writing style, which omits words other writers would consider necessary, and often features sentence fragments. His books are noted for their dark humor and depiction of American authoritarianism. Other hallmarks of his work include dense plotting and a relentlessly pessimistic worldview. Ellroy has been called the "Demon Dog of American crime fiction."

See also http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0255278/

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,098 reviews
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,196 reviews1,819 followers
May 25, 2022

Kim Basinger modello Veronica Lake. Un giro di squillo di lusso, che dopo una ripassata a una clinica di Malibu escono identiche alle dive del cinema: ci sono una Ava Gardner, una Rita Hayworth, una Betty Grable. E c’è soprattutto una Veronica Lake.

Ecco un romanzo che deve aver richiesto al suo autore memoria, concentrazione, riepilogo, una parete, ma anche due o tre, piene di post-it per annotare e collegare personaggi, trame e sotto-trame, per non perdersi fatti episodi e dettagli, per tenere tutto sotto controllo. Plot molto intricato che Ellroy domina con successo.
Ho letto qualche suo romanzo, quattro o cinque, mi son piaciuti tutti: ma questo m’è parso il migliore.

Russell Crowe qui poco più che trentenne, tre anni prima di esplodere con “Il gladiatore”. Che fine ha fatto ora? Segue il percorso di Johnny Depp?

Terzo capitolo della cosiddetta tetralogia di Los Angeles: The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, questo, e l’ultimo White Jazz.
Ovviamente, trattandosi di Ellroy, la trama è infarcita di veri fatti di cronaca.
Chi ha sterminato sei persone al Nite Owl, un coffee shop di L.A.?

Kevin Spacey era quello più lanciato tra i tre protagonisti: con all’attivo già un Oscar come miglior attore non protagonista per “I soliti sospetti” e il successo di “Seven”. Che fine gli hanno fatto fare? Io spero che torni al più presto a mostrare il suo grande talento.

Tre poliziotti, Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), Bud White (Russell Crowe) e Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) sono i protagonisti di questo ribollente vulcanico noir che attraversa gli anni Cinquanta della mecca del cinema, Hollywood Los Angeles, tra prostituzione, pornografia spinta, droga, collusione (corruzione) tra polizia, potere politico e criminalità organizzata (niente di nuovo sotto il sole?).
Indagano, ciascuno a modo loro: uno è il cavaliere di tutte le donne indifese e un episodio del suo passato ha lasciato un marchio indelebile di dolore e sopraffazione, uno vuol fare carriera e sedere nella poltrona più grande e più comoda dove affondare la sua vigliaccheria, il terzo ama stazionare sotto flash luci e riflettori, flirtare col gossip e nascondere il mortale errore che ha commesso.

Guy Pearce, quello che ha approfittato meno di questo ottimo trampolino di lancio.

La quarta protagonista è la città, quella degli angeli, Los Angeles, costruita sul deserto in riva al mare, ciò nonostante piena di lati oscuri, in ombra.
La sua appendice più celebre è Hollywood, regno dell’artificio e dell’abbaglio.

Il regista Curtis Hanson (1945 - 2016) al lavoro su una scena con Kevin Spacey.

Il film è del 1997, firmato sia alla sceneggiatura che alla regia da Curtis Hanson, buon regista morto troppo presto, che però non si è mai più ripetuto a queste vette. Il film fu candidato a nove oscar e ne vinse due: per la miglior attrice non protagonista, Kim Basinger, e per la miglior sceneggiatura non originale (nel senso di tratta da materiale pre-esistente, libro o altro), Curtis Hanson e Brian Helgeland. Oltre a riportare in auge la Basinger, che con le vicende matrimoniali era un po’ finita in ombra, servì da trampolino di lancio per tutti e tre i protagonisti.
La sceneggiatura per forza di cose riduce l’ampiezza della trama letteraria, si perde quella struttura ramificata e stratificata, elimina molte parti, si concentra sui tre “eroi” e inventa un nuovo epilogo. Magistrale.
Come il libro.

Il poster del film, dal quale è difficile credere che Kim Basinger sia attrice NON protagonista.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
3,005 reviews10.6k followers
September 8, 2016
In the aftermath of the Bloody Christmas, the lives of three cops are forever entwined; Ed Exley, the by the book cop who is forever in his father's shadow, glory hound Jack Vincennes, and Bud White, the man forever avenging his dead mother. After six people are killed in the Nite Owl Massacre, can the three men co-exist working the same case or will they all go down in flames?

L.A. Confidential is an epic crime tale spanning nearly a decade, a tale of corruption, greed, drugs, pornography, and murder upon murder upon murder. In many ways, it's The Big Nowhere 2.0. Ellroy once again uses the hell's trinity of three cops with varying degrees of dirtiness to explore Hollywood's filthy and infected underbelly.

The story started simply enough. A bunch of cops got tanked at a Christmas party and beat the shit out of some prisoners. Ed Exley snitched, setting the tone for most of the rest of his role in the book, that of an overgrown kiss ass hall monitor. Well, that's unfair, I guess. He's a pretty good detective for a daddy's boy rat. As with previous Ellroy affairs, two of the cops are pretty dirty. Jack Vincennes sells dirt to tabloids and Bud White's a heavy handed guy with a never ending beef with wifebeaters.

Once the Nite Owl Massacre hits and the smut magazines rear their creepy masked heads, Ellroy shows just how dirty cops can be, with lots of withholding evidence and backstabbing. The three leads prove themselves to be multi-faceted characters, all three with likeable and deplorable traits. Structurally, it's very similar to The Big Nowhere, only richer, more nuanced, and grimier. James Ellroy's Los Angeles is a cesspool with a thousand decaying corpses bobbing just beneath the surface.

I had a feeling who the mastermind was but was in the dark about a lot of the rest of the dirty deed doers until the trinity finally got on the same page just before the pages were torn out for good. For most of the book, I was happy to be on Ellroy's sightseeing tour of Hollywood hell. His punchy use of language was something to behold, a machine gun of poetic yet brutal short sentences.

The ending was pretty hard. I knew the ending would be rough, considering the previous two books in the LA Quartet, but this one was a bloody train wreck. There were some great character moments in the final pages and it's left me ravenous for White Jazz.

I guess I can finally join the nearly 20 year old party and see the movie now. Five out of five stars.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,978 followers
October 25, 2016
We’ve all heard of the Good-Cop/Bad-Cop routine, but when you read a James Ellroy novel it’s more like Bad-Cop/Worse-Cop/Crimes-Against-Humanity-Cop.

This third installment in the L.A. Quartet introduces us to another trio of police officers who wouldn't last ten minutes on the job if there were smart phones in the 1950s which could have recorded their many misdeeds. Ed Exley is a brilliant detective, but his physical cowardice is exceeded only by his ruthless ambition. Bud White is a thug who never met a suspect he couldn’t beat into talking, and he’s got a special hatred reserved for men who hurt women. Jack Vincennes has gone Hollywood with a side gig as the technical advisor for a TV cop show, and his reputation as a relentless narco officer is mainly due to him taking payoffs from a scandal rag to arrest movie stars to create juicy stories.

The three cops end up involved in a police brutality scandal dubbed Bloody Christmas which leads to drastic changes of fortune for each of them. Then a shocking mass murder in a coffee shop in an apparent robbery gone wrong draws all of them into the orbit of the investigation. Driven by their obsessions and haunted by secrets all of them will follow separate trails through a tangled web of pornography, drugs, prostitution, rape, and murder.

Ellroy had used similar elements of historical fiction that combines the seedy history of L.A. with his own epic crime stories in previous books, but I think this is where he perfected the idea and really soared with it. It’s the first time he fully deployed a unique style that is essentially a stream of consciousness that shifts among the three leads that uses clipped sentences to form a patter that makes everything feel more as if it’s being experienced instead of a narrative you’re reading.

The main appeal for me is the three main characters. These are not nice guys. They are utterly amoral and unrepentant racists who cause an enormous amount of damage in pursuit of their own agendas. What saves them (And this is what usually redeems Ellroy’s characters.) is their ultimate realizations that they’re pawns being used by a system that is far more criminal and corrupt than anything they’ve done, and that they’re willing to destroy themselves and everything around them in bids for redemption.

This is a brutal, vicious crime novel filled with shocking acts of violence and offensive language. It’s also an extremely complex and dense book with multiple confusing sub-plots spinning off the main Nite Owl story. I’ve read it multiple times, and I’d still be hard pressed to explain everything that happens and why. Despite all of that it remains among my favorite novels because it is such a bold attempt to do something different that is mostly successful.

I also credit the movie as being one of the best adaptations of a book I’ve seen. There’s only about 40% of the plot from the page on the screen, but they did a masterful job of combining and condensing elements while preserving the essential feel of the book and smartly keeping the focus on its three flawed main characters.
Profile Image for Baba.
3,620 reviews991 followers
August 2, 2021
This L.A. set, ultra-dark, detailed, complex and completely riveting police conspiracy thriller set mostly in the 1950s centres round the 'Night Owl' coffee house murders of six customers. The story is founded on a devastating police abuse of power that involves the three main (police) protagonists who have enmity for each other before the aforementioned murders. Story asides, what makes this book standout is taking Noir to extremes never taking before, or debatably since! It's written in second person, in short chapters mostly from the perspectives of the three main protagonists in a quasi- stream of consciousness style with the intermittent use of press articles, media releases and/or police statements.

If you're like me, a fan of the movie, you better get ready for this, as I feel the book surpasses it. There's so much to say, but only so much that I can expect you to read. It looks at engrained police and political corruption, race prejudice, female disempowerment, homophobia, Hollywood's underbelly, nepotism, police cliques, abuse of power (including child, female and prisoner abuse), wanton police violence, the dark side of what was then illegal pornography, drugs, crime syndicates and on and on, but al through the lens of the three white (heterosexual) male police officers juggling their supposed duty, with their own personal wants and needs. Ellroy captures a crime story where no one is left unscathed, where investigating, participating or witnessing dark deeds has real impact, where chickens always come home to roost.

I can honestly state than any reader of American, crime and/or 1950s set fiction cannot not read this book that truly deserves the appellation - tour de force. 9 out of 12. Although I'm pretty sure a future second read will move my rating from 4 to 5 stars. As if there is one note of negative criticism, it's that the stylised way thee story is told, may take time getting used to, as it did for me.
Profile Image for Richard.
1,000 reviews382 followers
January 12, 2016
L.A. Confidential feels like the book that James Ellroy has been preparing for and working up to during his entire career up to this point. He takes all of the themes he explored in previous novels and packs them into a book that's an even larger, more epic tale of crime, perversion, and Hollywood corruption than any of his previous books. L.A. Confidential tells the story of three LAPD officers who are initially at odds with one another after the infamous Bloody Christmas police brutality scandal and once again cross paths after a bloody massacre at the Nite Owl coffee shop in Hollywood. At first, each of them are involved in separate investigations. Slowly these mysteries all seem to connect to the Nite Owl in some way and ultimately, the men must learn to put their differences aside as they realize that they are neck deep in a scandal bigger than anything they could've imagined, one that goes beyond the Nite Owl Massacre, one that involves filth porn, heroin, tabloid extortion, a popular kid's theme park (Disneyland anyone?), and high-class whores cut to look like movie stars.

I mentioned before that the novel is even more epic than the previous ones in the L.A. Quartet, but is so huge that it's hard to keep track of at times, which makes for a slower read than the more focused stories in The Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere. It has the most complicated mystery and conspiracy that I've ever read, so complicated that it seems to involve ever person living in L.A. County, and even the characters sometimes have to create graphs to keep track of everything. But no one could've wrangled all of these threads into something coherent other than author James Ellroy, showing his tremendous skill as a writer. And this is the novel where he begins his experimentation with his writing style, moving toward the clipped, manic, jazzy prose that he uses in later novels. Here, in order to cut down on page-count in order to get published, he cut out all unnecessary words.

As usual, the characters in this were fascinating, strong men with weaknesses and dark secrets, who through their investigation, seek something close to redemption. Edmund Exley is a young officer living under his father's shadow and a war hero reputation based on a lie, and who is an ambitious, by-the-book, do-gooder who believes in the pursuit of absolute justice and willing to rat out his fellow officers and be hated by everyone to move up in the department. Wendell "Bud" White is a bruising, hard boiled cop, haunted by witnessing the violent murder of his mother by his father, and takes it out on woman beaters that he arrests. He hates the fact that he's seen as lacking the intelligence to be a good detective and only good with his fists, and he becomes obsessed with privately investigating a string of hooker murders. And finally there's "Trashcan" Jack Vincennes, a Narcotics officer with his own skeletons in his closet, who's dead set on arresting drug users, but more importantly, he strives for Hollywood stardom, consulting on a hit cop show, rousts celebrity druggies, and gives exclusive dirt to tabloid writer Sid Hudgens and his Hush Hush scandal mag in exchange for cash, article write-ups, and a photo op. He begins investigating the production of porno picture books, and we realize that Trashcan Jack might also have an unhealthy obsession with what's between the pages of the books that he finds. The way that each story evolves and interconnects is truly something to behold! This book has enough story for 5 novels, but somehow it's told in about 500 pages. How that's even possible is beyond me...

The movie based on this book is one of my top five favorites, and reading this novel made me appreciate it even more. I've realized it's probably the best movie adaptation of a book to date. How it takes this loaded story that could be adapted into a 10-part miniseries, and successfully converts it into an exciting and engaging 2 hour, 20 minute movie is a feat that really should be recognized. Obviously the movie is missing lots of the story from the book, but the movie really stands on it's own, and skillfully combines multiple characters and creates new scenes and themes that still works to tell the story in an effective way. Although it's sadly missing much of Jack Vincennes's intriguing storyline, it introduces new backstory elements that I wish were in the book (Rollo Tomasi), strengthens the Bud and Exley dynamic, and makes Lynn Bracken an even stronger character. The fact that the movie is at times even better than the book and can stand on it's own really says something about the adaptation. I would suggest both seeing the movie and reading the book, as there is something to be gained by both.

James Ellroy is quickly becoming one of my favorites and I can't wait to soon read White Jazz and his other books. Anyway Dear Reader, that's all the dirt that's fit to print. And you heard it here first, off-the-record, on the QT, and very Hush Hush.
Profile Image for Francesc.
459 reviews222 followers
August 16, 2020
Extraordinaria novela.
Los personajes y la ambientación son fantásticos.
Después de Chandler, Ellroy está en la cumbre en cuanto a plasmar la vida y la muerte en Los Ángeles y todo su mundo.
A diferencia de la película, al final, la acción transcurre bastantes años después. En cambio, en la película, es cuestión de días. Esos años hicieron que, en cierta manera, me desconectara un poco de la trama.

Extraordinary novel.
The characters and setting are fantastic.
After Chandler, Ellroy is at the top of shaping life and death in Los Angeles and all its world.
Unlike the film, in the end, the action takes place several years later. In the film, however, it is a matter of days. Those years made me, in a way, disconnect a little bit from the plot.
Profile Image for  amapola.
282 reviews32 followers
August 16, 2020
(anche in rilettura si conferma il mio Ellroy preferito)

Bisogna essere in perfetta forma per leggere questo libro: occhi, cuore, cervello, fiato, nervi, fegato, stomaco. Ambientato nella Los Angeles degli anni ’50, è un romanzo intricatissimo, con una trama principale e decine di sottotrame che si intersecano, con tre protagonisti e una miriade di comprimari (poliziotti, gangster, divi del cinema, giornalisti, puttane, spacciatori, ecc.). Non affezionatevi troppo a qualcuno di loro, potrebbe essere fatto fuori una decina di pagine più in là.
Come Ellroy abbia potuto concepire una trama così ingarbugliata, dominandola alla perfezione dall’inizio alla fine senza perdere il bandolo della matassa e riuscire a realizzarla mantenendo il ritmo della narrazione sempre al massimo, per me è sbalorditivo.
Poi verranno anche “American Tabloid”, “I miei luoghi oscuri”, “Sei pezzi da mille”, ma questo rimane a tutti gli effetti il mio Ellroy preferito. Geniale!
Molto bello anche il film di Curtis Hanson.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
November 30, 2015
"Whatever you desire."


"...safe passage for ruthless men in love."


Like Fight Club, 'L.A. Confidential' is one of those contemporary novels that provides a certain literary difficulty for readers who come to it AFTER the film dropped because the directors (David Fincher, Curtis Hanson) created such large, iconic images out of the novels. L.A. Confidential's major characters are all very similar to the movie, but there are some major omissions and changes made in the movie that keep Elloroy's urtext both novel and different enough, to warrant your buck and your time.

Ellroy is a modern master of the slow build, the dark, back motives, the inevitable bloodbath. I think of the image of three big waves cresting together when I think of Edmund "Ed" Exley, Wendell "Bud" White, John "Jack" Vincennes, and their personal demons, all coming together to exact justice, each for their own reasons and with their own baggage and agendas. Anyway, it was all deftly done.

The novel also contains many of the usual Ellroy tropes: pornography, children haunted by the actions of their parents, prostitutes, vice-in-general, the mob, corrupt cops, heroic cops with fatal flaws, femme fatales, queers, shrinks, plastic surgery, and a dark undercurrent that cuts thorough the heart of both L.A. and Hollywood. The world Ellory paints is dark, harsh, and often perverse. It isn't a place you want to raise a family or even walk a dog.

Profile Image for Tim.
477 reviews662 followers
August 17, 2018
Hey everyone, it's my 100th review on goodreads!!!!!!

No, wait, this is a dark and brooding noir. Can't be that happy. Think mean thoughts. Take a shot glass of despair, with a nihilistic chaser and a cheap cigarette.

There we go.

Spanning from 1950 to 58, L.A. Confidential stands as easily the most ambitious book in Ellroy’s series thus far.

It’s Christmas time and that does not mean heart-warming cups of good cheer and old Scrooge being visited by three ghosts in Ellroy’s work. “Bud looked out the window. A Salvation Army Santa palmed coins from his kettle, an eye on the liquor store across the street.” That’s our Christmas spirit… Ho. goddamn Ho. We go into an event that will be dubbed “Bloody Christmas” and things get worse from there as we move onto another case referred to as "The Nite Owl Massacre.” Yeah… this one’s just filled with good cheer.

Our protagonists this time (certainly not heroes as they’re even more crooked than any of the other leads in the previous books) are three very different cops. Jack Vincennes is a Hollywood cop through and through. He is the consultant for a TV show called "Badge of Honor," gets big publicity in the papers, and secretly works with one magazine to find out lower ranking stars doing drugs and sets up busts to get his picture in papers. Bud White is a police officer thug, a classic “ticking time bomb” sort, but with good connections. He’s the protégé of one Dudley Smith, who has uses for the violent sort. Finally we come to Ed Exley, who believes in perfect justice. He has a ruthless sort of efficiency, but in a very by the book sort of way. He’s only too happy to make enemies if it means moving up, and he’s quite good at knowing the right thing to say at the right time. Together these three make up Ellroy’s most interesting cast thus far.

So onto my opinions on the book itself… I actually find myself at a bit of a loss on this one. Not because it’s not good. It is. In fact, it’s damn near perfect. This is seriously the sort of book that I feel I can’t pick apart because they would be nitpicks only, yet I can’t fully praise without giving everything away. I could say for instance that there are so many characters that I felt like I needed a notepad of suspects (some of which show up for two or three pages and are not heard from again for 300 and it’s just assumed you’ll remember them), but that’s not a full complaint as it fits the scenario (after all, the book takes place over eight years).

From a structural standpoint, it is much more a direct sequel to The Big Nowhere. In fact, this one starts with a prologue that acts as an epilogue of the previous novel. I’m actually a bit conflicted on my feelings about this.

Beyond this scene though, there's other aspects of the previous novel that come into play. A lot more returning side-characters, and political events discussed in the previous book come back in a big way here. While much like The Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere, you could easily read this as a stand-alone novel, but you would be missing out on so many of the wonderful details Ellroy has set up and continues to set up.

From a stylistic standpoint, it continue the themes of corruption from the previous books. It continues in a big way. In The Big Nowhere we saw it infiltrating into all areas, in L.A. Confidential we see it firmly in place and infecting even those who started with good intentions. We see that to fight back against this corruption, you have to jump into it a bit yourself. In the previous books the characters may have been crooked, but you got a sense there were lines they wouldn't cross for anything. Here those lines are blurred, and you wonder if there even is a line or if they only exist until the proper set of circumstances arises.

Ellroy continues building his world in a fantastic way. Using real historic events and making up his own. We see freeways constructed and an obvious stand-in for Disney Land built up. The use of real events cements us in the world, and these touches of fiction allows for him to play with it in ways that he couldn't using the real places. It's a wonderful combo, with occasional points where I went online to wiki something to see if it was real. I continue to be impressed with the story he's telling and how he builds up and plays off of a real place.

The writing is also much improved here. There's something of a legend that Ellroy’s original manuscript was originally over 80o pages. Apparently a senior editor at his publisher told Ellroy that the book was too long and needed to be shortened for the sake of publishing costs. Ellroy decided that the narrative was too intricately and precisely plotted to remove any actual scenes from the book and his solution was to go through the manuscript page by page to remove extraneous words. By doing this he managed to reduce the length of the manuscript without losing a single scene... and the book is brilliant because of this. While I enjoyed The Big Nowhere, I found it often overly descriptive. While Ellroy is a great writer, his descriptions were not stunning enough to justify the length he went on, and I often found myself wishing he'd just get to the point. There is none of that here. There is not a single unneeded word. Sentences are often short, only as long as they need to be to get the point. They go off like a shotgun at close range, and Ellroy never misfires once.

In closing: this one is amazing. You don't often hear the word "epic" attached to noir, but Ellroy has constructed a truly epic noir. This is a big book, sitting at around 500 pages. It's got a metric ton of characters and one might need a graph to place all the connections that the cases go though, but trust me it's worth the investment. A full 5 stars and my highest possible recommendation.

Remember, dear reader, you heard it first here – off the record, on the Q.T. and very Hush-Hush.
Profile Image for Jason Koivu.
Author 7 books1,257 followers
December 6, 2019
I hadn't meant to start my Christmas-themed reads just yet, but I'd forgotten, L.A. Confidential pretty much begins with a Christmas party scene. It's not much of what you'd call a Christmas book. That scene is really the only connection to the holiday, and yet it has just as much to do with Christmas as other books which slap the word on the cover in an attempt to get fools like me to read it for no other reason than that connection.

No, this book is about Los Angeles' seedy underbelly and the bad apple cops who made it worse. Our trio of heroes/anti-heroes try to scrub that underbelly and toss out those rotten apples, and Ellroy does an excellent job at eliciting an emotional attachment to them in the reader.

I read this because I saw and loved the movie version, and I wanted to see how closely related they were. They're very similar. The way in which they diverge is common to most adapted books: more background detail. The movie had to pare down the book's wealth of content, stripping away major storylines in order to fit the script of a typical feature-length film. Movie viewers miss out on some nice scenes and descriptions, but they're also treated to a slick, streamlined production. Whereas, occasionally the book gets out of hand and bogged down by layers of plot. The movie is complicated. The book is confounding.

In conclusion, what a great "Christmas" read this was!
Profile Image for Cathy DuPont.
456 reviews171 followers
January 28, 2015
1) Yes, this was excellent.
2) Yes, this was hard-boiled.
3) Yes, this had confusing storylines.
4) Yes, this book needed a list of characters (unless you have an incredible memory.)
5) Yes, I wanted to give this book a solid five stars.

I have been wanting to read this great book for years, then when I saw I had 10 friends who read it, it became a must read now. Of those 10 friends, five gave it four stars and five five stars, so I knew it was great.

Ellroy wrote The Black Dahalia which I loved, giving it five stars and I fully expected this book to live up to my five star expectation. However, I found the characters very confusing. I wondered, how does Ellroy expect the reader to remember John Doe who was mentioned on page 25, then repeated again on page 158? So who is John Doe? Then begin flipping back the pages to see when he was mentioned.

Although the storyline was about the Night Owl massacre of six people in an all night coffee shop, there were multiple storylines revolving around that event.

There are three main characters and they weave back and forth...good, yes, he's a good guy then hell no, he's a bad guy. So, in my mind there are no clear cut good guy/bad guys in the entire book. And that is not a complaint but if you need a clear delineation of good/bad guys, it's not here.

Needless to say, this is no pansy ass book with warm and fuzzies. It's dark, pitch black dark and that's why it's called noir. A great word for this book.

I still wish that Goodreads would allow us readers to give half stars but no. Changes in GR, as we all know, but not there. With that said, I would give this one three and a half, but I do round up so I'm tipping the scale of my circle of friends with six now giving it four stars and five reviewers, five stars.

No, it didn't amaze me. Hopefully, the next Ellroy will. I'm expecting it but will begin my list of characters on page one like I should have done here. hint, hint
Profile Image for Kasia.
76 reviews198 followers
August 28, 2016
The never-ending parade of homogenous macho cops; the weak, dependable women - perfect victims for any crime; the overwhelmingly complex story line, sub-plot within sub-plot, twist upon twist - all that delivered in a flat, dry style. That's an Ellroy novel for you.

I know that it's supposed to add up to this intricate, dark story interwoven with sex and violence and thus gripping, like nothing else. But I, frankly, was bored to death. The scheming was a tad too elaborate for my taste. After a while I stopped caring when yet another layer to the story was revealed; there's only so much dry plot that I can take. Plot on itself won't keep me on the edge for long. A list of names straight out of phonebook won't do it for me either. Violence and sex will keep me interested for a little while, but unless it's happening to a well fleshed-out character that too will eventually start to disappoint. And that's what happened. I've ended up being disappointed. I wanted to like this book, I loved the movie, and I do get the appeal of this gritty, brutal writing. But despite some enjoyable moments, getting through L.A. Confidential felt like a chore. So I cannot say that I liked it. Hence the 2 star rating.
Profile Image for William.
676 reviews339 followers
January 19, 2020
Barely 3 Stars. A huge disappointment.

I've been looking forward to reading this book for two decades, but it certainly wasn't worth the wait or the effort. This is the third in Ellroy's L. A. Quartet.

This is somewhat better than the (appropriately titled) The Big Nowhere (2nd in the LA Quartet), but it's completely eclipsed by Ellroy's very first book, his only Ten-Star book, The Black Dahlia - truly a Masterpiece of crime noir.
(My review)

Warning, this book for Adults only... perversions abound
(You don't want to know!)

As usual with my reviews, please first read the publisher’s blurb/summary of the book. Thank you.

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The whole book, beginning to end, is mostly an overcomplicated plot, with a terrible prose experiment in harder-than-hard-boiled. A failed exercise for Ellroy, and extended punishment for readers. Sadly, Ellroy continued to try to perfect this super-hard-boiled style, with varying degrees of success. The fourth in the L.A. Quartet series, White Jazz, apparently alienates even his greatest fans.

Don't misunderstand me, the incredibly complex plot was terrific in the 1997 movie, and could have been written better than the movie, but it's poorly presented in the book due to a variety of narrative errors by Ellroy.

In the first 2/3 of the book, we really have a collection of novellas and short stories, tied together by thin gruel of "Hush Hush" scandal reports in breathless-but-empty style, various dry, dull police reports, narrative experiments, staccato prose "reader abuse", and some occasional instances of great dialogue and (brief) action. Just when you think Ellroy has given up the prose experiments, he starts again.

There are far too many mid-chapter viewpoint switches between the three main characters, and you often must read several paragraphs before you can figure out whose viewpoint is current. I looked for sympathetic characters in this book, and mostly, there are none.

Ellroy's attempts to "harder boil" the narrative leads him farther and farther into the chopped, staccato renderings of actions and events. Not fun. It's often hard to decipher much of the "word salad".

Many of the main characters' thoughts, and the book's events are repeated often. It's as if the reader must be reminded constantly of minutiae. Very irritating, especially in the staccato style. Characters often come to the same conclusions as each other, and we are forced to see a repetition of those clues and events.

But... the dialogue is often terrific. Ellroy's narrative prose experiment is thankfully not heard in the voices of his characters.

Edmund makes a mistake confronting Stompanato and "a hooker" ...
... Jack: "She IS Lana Turner..."

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The book's three main "heroes" fair poorly compared to the extraordinary 1997 movie, which wisely cut out Ellroy's fluff, repetition and gruel, and re-created Jack (Kevin Spacey), Bud (Russell Crowe) and Edmund (Guy Pierce) as flawed but true heroes.

Lieutenant Detective shield 1950s

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Lyn Bracken's sharp style and wit through Kim Basinger's Oscar-winning supporting role expand the book's character into perhaps the only sympathetic person in the entire story. In all, the movie is ten times better in almost every way compared to the book.

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One of the stronger characters in both movie and book, Dudley Smith (superbly played by James Cromwell), remains mostly an enigma here. We almost never see his point of view in the book, or look over his shoulder during his machinations. Given his importance to the plot(s), this seems dishonest of Ellroy.

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In the final 1/3 of the book, this mess all gets overturned and re-investigated, with some breakneck pacing, discoveries and horrific violence. We think, "finally, the book is moving forward clearly". But no, the combination of staccato prose and far too many characters requires Ellroy to use pages and pages of "info-dumps" to try to clarify the mess. Not fun at all.

A rousing climax train ambush, and yet more overly complex info-dumps closes the book. What an utter and disappointing mess.

The fabulous movie cast is how I saw the main characters while reading the book -

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Notes and Quotes:

Perhaps this book might be better on the second or third reading. But give it a few months between. Personally, I'm going to go watch the movie again, to help wash away my disappointment in the book 😉

Unlike The Black Dahlia, in which I found more than 20 terrific quotes to including in my review, this book as only a tiny few impoverished quotes that I found to extract. Personally, I think one of the best ways to rate a book is by the number of fine quotes extracted into reviews.

A glory that costs everything and means nothing.
- Steve Erickson

An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 1 O- gauge pump, a .3 8 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he'd bought off a pachuco at the border.

Bud thumbed his address book. Lorene from the Silver Star, Jane from the Zimba Room, Nancy from the Orbit Lounge - late-breaking numbers. They had the look: late thirties, hungry-grateful for a younger guy who treated them nice and gave them a taste all men weren't shitheels.
[Jack] wanted to track the filth because part of him wondered how something could be so ugly and so beautiful and part of him plain jazzed on it.
Preston Exley and Art De Spain joined Dieterling in devotion-a circle of hardcase men and a woman who made them grateful for the chance to feel gentle.
[Lynn] kept her clothing subtle because she knew it would make more of an impression on the people she wanted to impress; she thought most men were weak and trusted her brains to slide her through anything. Suppositions leading up to a hunch: couple her brains with the counterdope in her system and you got a pentothal-immune witness dissembling with impunity-and style.
Bud dropped the receiver. The clerk babbled from someplace safe and calm that he'd never see again - no Lynn, no safety in a badge.

Notes as I read:

Before reading this, I had seen the superb movie three times since its original release. I must say, the book is hugely more verbose, even to the point of me skimming along. I hope the pace picks up again soon.

Dense, opaque, confusing prose. I know Ellroy is experimenting with a staccato prose style. It's not working.

The prose levels off, becomes more narrative and smooth.

Lots of dull, repetitive filler material here. Ugh

The characters grow darker as they age, except perhaps for Bud. And it's not going to get easier as old lies are revealed. Ellroy has regained much of his storytelling prose now, thankfully.

Back to the repetitious, staccato prose. Ugh.

Here we go again, terribly repetitive "reports" from newspapers. The same old info again and again, salted with a few new bits each time. Ugh.

And it's great now. Fast pace, no gobbledygook, surprising twists.

Whoops again... Mostly very difficult "staccato prose", very repetitious narrative, unsympathetic characters, and moments of brilliance.

The pace has picked up tremendously, and the staccato prose is minimised to negotiable sections.

There were many real-life events and persons in the book, some only thinly disguised.

The real Johnny Stompanato and Lana Turner c. 1958
Lana's young daughter actually stabbed Stompanato to death in April 1958. There is a theory that actually, Lana found Stompanato in bed with her daughter, and she stabbed him, with the daughter "taking the rap" and getting off on "self-defense".

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Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,495 reviews2,381 followers
October 21, 2018
Picking up where The Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere left off, the third in the L.A. Quartet tracks the intertwining paths of three flawed and ambitious cops who emerge from a Bloody Christmas affair involving a bunch Mexicans locked up for the night. And if there is one thing Ellroy loves doing in these books, it's showcasing a disdain for the Hollywood tinsel. It is evident at every turn. He paints a dark and brooding Los Angeles where police corruption is rife, there is dope peddling, prostitution, and other risky business with movie stars getting caught up with the wrong type of people. Even the most noble of the characters here are relentlessly sleazy. But their grueling, sometimes maniacal schemes make a compelling read for the stout of heart. And in Captain Dudley Smith, here is one bad ass you wouldn't want to upset, the chances are you will end up swimming with the fishes. He is a key character in the plot, which I will say no more about, other than it's a cracking read, with many tense moments that should keep the hard-boiled crime fiction fan pleased. A solid piece of writing, with terrific use of dialogue that really captures the time with such authenticity, and yet, it would only get third place for me when rating all four of the Quartet. The Big Nowhere edged out the rest as my favorite.
Profile Image for Gemma.
80 reviews
October 25, 2008
I can't do it. I hate the jivey style-- it tries too hard. It is a parody of itself.

I know that white cops in the 50s were racist-- I get it-- but the racism is almost sadistic in this book. Like, did we really need all that detail? All those epithets? Really?

Maybe I started reading this under false pretenses. I was like "Old Hollywood! True crime! Pavement-pounding cops!" I love the idea of L.A. in the 50s, the seedy underbelly of all that glamor. I love crime writing, I love portraits of killers, and investigations of motive. But... I do not like this book. It's more about racist, lonely cops and less about Humanity, or Murder Itself, or even The Glamorous Lifestyle And How It Can Lead to Being Crazy.

I gave it 100 pages, and I am not reading the rest. Sorry, Ellroy.
Profile Image for aPriL does feral sometimes .
1,931 reviews438 followers
October 21, 2020
'LA Confidential' by James Ellroy is a horrorshow noir about Los Angeles police in the 1950's. The ending goes completely off the rails, but who cares! What a fun ride!

'LA Confidential' is the third novel in a series called the LA Quartet. Start with the first novel if you want to keep up with a few characters who are carried forward from the 1940's: The Black Dahlia

How on Earth do people write a description of the plot? There is no way to do it fully! I can't, gentle reader. Convoluted is not descriptive enough to describe the hundreds of threads. It isn't simply there are a lot of twists in the plot, which there are, there are also a lot of characters who are all very active people. Every character has either a crooked con going or - full stop, actually. Every character has a criminal secret they are protecting from public knowledge. The police commit crimes against perpetrators and suspects, not making any differentiation between them. The only distinguishing difference between the criminal acts of the various police characters is motive: is he trying to save a person or destroy someone or make money or get a promotion? The victims commit crimes because they have been victimized and they cannot get justice or they need money. Of course, the official criminal characters commit crimes, too. Official criminals, like the mafia or cartels or gangbangers, who are doing crimes are kind of an afterthought in this book, gentle reader. Laws? What laws? Did anyone see you do it? If so, how to kill them without getting caught? The question EVERY character has if they meet an innocent child or woman or man, basically, is can you fuck it or sell it?

Murdered people are throughout the noir novel with police officers investigating some of the deaths of folks they didn't personally kill, so, I guess I have to label this book a murder mystery and not a Syfy movie where the entire small town wants to eat you. However, L.A. is seemingly a town where everybody wants to eat you alive either with ketchup or real blood as a condiment. Just saying. Ostensibly, the action is provoked by the murders of six people in a cafe. Was it a robbery? Was one or more of the people who were shot to death the real target and the rest just unfortunate bystanders? The subsequent investigation turns up several angles since one of the victims was a known associate of a mafia don and other known felons. Eyewitnesses about a car and earlier reports of three black men shooting a shotgun in a park in the area from a similar car could also be connected.

The book eventually settles down, more or less, if the frantic excited desperate and haunted people in this novel would ever settle down and chill, on three main characters who are LAPD detectives - obsessed thug Wendel "Bud" White, alcoholic smooth advisor-to-a-TV-police-show John "Jack" Vincennes, aka "The BigV", and ambitious competitive rich connected Edmund Exley. There are a lot of peripheral characters, like criminals and other police detectives, carried over from previous novels in the L.A. Quartet series (despite that Ellroy has the distressing tendency to kill, literally, off many of his main characters). The main characters all have, or had, impulses to be honorable, but these folks are fallen angels. They no longer have confidence in the processes of the Law or in the politicians overseeing their activities. However, making sure procedures are followed is how they do their jobs on the surface. Each has been warped by a tragedy or two and obsessions are the driving force behind their choices.

Things might work out. Or not.

Omg, this novel is really whacked.
Profile Image for Steve.
962 reviews95 followers
February 27, 2015
I had seen the superb movie many times (it's in my top five) before reading this book, and wondered how the two would compare. Ellroy's novel is also superb, and in some ways the movie reads directly from it (much of the dialogue is lifted verbatim) but there are huge differences.

Fit into a couple hours and what feels like a year's worth of time, the movie is much more concise. The book is far more sprawling, taking place over almost a decade, connecting to both the prequel (The Big Nowhere, outstanding) and sequel (White Jazz, which is up next). The screenwriters did a fine job capturing the essence of the book while truncating the plot.

The book is far more involved, with more seamy threads, the plot much more byzantine. I was having a tough time figuring out how the evil scheme tied together, but Ellroy does a surprisingly good job of tying it together in a short time at the end, so read closely and stick with it. The details and threads are there to allow an observant reader to tie it together.

The book's larger scope lets the three main characters get more face time and more depth. Not to slight Guy Pearce's fine performance, but Ed Exley is a whole new level of fascinating here. Jack Vincennes isn't the super-slick hepcat that Kevin Spacey memorably embodied. Bud White is far less restrained than Russell Crowe made him. The actors who played smaller roles in the movie (James Cromwell, Danny Devito, and David Straithairn) were dead on.

Ellroy's prose is a thing of beauty, with its raw expose of violence and corruption and 50s slang. While the movie was chock-full of badness, it didn't come close to the book. For those unfamiliar with the author: putting it mildly, he doesn't have a good opinion of human nature. No nice guys (or gals) here at all: everyone is broken and disturbed to some extent.

If you like down and dirty crime fiction or film noir at all, this is the book for you. The movie, too.
Profile Image for The Frahorus.
841 reviews86 followers
October 12, 2021
Prima opera che leggo di James Ellroy e, come mi hanno detto in molti, la sua opera migliore. Tutta la storia ruota attorno al terribile fatto di sangue avvenuto al Nite Owl: sei persone trucidate in quel coffe shop di Los Angeles. Troviamo tre poliziotti ad indagare sul fattaccio: Ed Exley, Bud White e Jack Vincennes. Ellroy ci narra un noir ambientato negli anni 50 e lo fa in un modo ineccepibile (chissà come ha fatto ad intrecciate tutte le storie, sarà stato un duro lavoraccio!). Ci troviamo al cospetto di un noir duro, feroce, crudo, senza limiti di morale, con depistaggi e con una domanda: cosa si è disposti a fare pur di mettere in pratica la giustizia? Qual è il limite da non superare?

Difficile da digerire questa storia, perché ti colpisce allo stomaco. Se dovessi fare una critica all'autore è certamente il fatto che nelle prime 150 pagine non si riesce bene a capire cosa stia succedendo, perché veniamo infarciti di tante notizie, vicende, sotto-trame da restarne avvinghiati. Ma lentamente verrà sbrogliato tutto, con tanti colpi di scena. Colpisce il lavoro di Ellroy, non vorrei essere stato nei suoi panni quando ha creato questa opera, chissà quanto tempo ci ha lavorato per far poi quadrare tutto quanto (e ci riesce, ve lo garantisco).

Lettura non per tutti i palati, ma solo per chi ama il noir vecchio stile.
Profile Image for Kurt Reichenbaugh.
Author 6 books65 followers
July 8, 2023
Hipster language, scandal-rag interludes, and a decade's dark history of the city. 3rd in the quartet.

July 2023 re-read. I've been in a "Noir/Hardboiled" book club for the past 15 years at least. Maybe closer to 20 years. Members have come and gone over the years but a core of us remain. This book is the July pick. I'd been thinking about reading another one of Ellroy's books, Blood's a Rover being the most likely one but this one got the July pick. My first succinct review above is in contrast to the depth and scope the novel attempts to get across. You have a decade of violence and corruption that culminate in a magical theme park and a massive freeway system. I'd read this book in 1991 when it was first published in paperback and still own the copy I bought then. I worked night shift security for a posh resort back then. I lived alone in an apartment and had my afternoons free to read by the vacant blue pool. (I miss those days.) I've since forgotten the entire plot. Several years later, the movie was good but didn't come near the scope and depravity of the book. A mass murder in an all-night Hollywood coffee shop serves as the plot's macguffin. It's really a character study of corruption and power, with a lot of sex, sleaze, violence and sin-uendo throughout. Maybe it goes on 80 pages or so too long, but it's very much worth a read. I wonder what people who bought the book in 1997, after seeing the movie, thought of it back then. They probably tossed it, wanting to scrub their hands. No one is clean in city of dreams.
Profile Image for Eirini Proikaki.
339 reviews113 followers
October 15, 2019
Γαμάτο αλλά τόσο μπερδεμένο που με έπιασε πονοκέφαλος.Τι έχει γράψει ο άνθρωπος!
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,492 reviews2,734 followers
November 27, 2016
So, my first Ellroy and I can say with certainly that I'll be back. Make no mistake, this is a raw, brutal and uncompromising tale of crime, corruption and conspiracies interspersed with some harsh morality and scenes of shocking violence .

Despite the length of the book, Ellroy's prose is so abbreviated, so fast-paced, that it propels us through the story at a breakneck speed: it has energy and velocity and a kind of dynamism about it; all show, no tell - if you're the kind of reader who wants your hand held by a narrator who tells you what's going on then Ellroy might not be for you - there's no exposition here, just scene after violent scene that builds up a picture of dirty deals, compromised police officers, abused women, betrayal, ambition, secrets and a search for some kind of redemption.

The plot is convoluted and unrolls over an 8-year period but this book is as much about atmosphere and character as about the unravelling of a crime. There's a cynical, sceptical wit here too: the satirical take on Disneyland, the dark side of Hollywood, the interspersed extracts from the most prurient newspapers on a moral crusade which is based on uncovering as much dirt as possible.

So a wonderfully sleazy, grimy, grubby, world with characters who come to morally-ambiguous life on the page: the noir-est of noir.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
January 15, 2022
Wow! What a book, very likely James Ellroy’s masterpiece, a sprawling epic tome, and kind of spectacular in its subject matter and execution. I have now read three of James Ellroy’s LA quartet, a kind of neo-noir expose of the LAPD, Hollywood, the LA mob and maybe American culture generally. Maybe his best known work (?) is Black Dahlia, which I like very much, but I think this is the best thing I have read from Ellroy yet. As I essentially said in my review of The Big Nowhere, Ellroy has a very low view of human nature and American history. He’s a kind of People’s History of the United States (Howard Zinn) crime novelist, who is out to dig deep into characteristic American greed, corruption and depravity, and each of these books can also be described as thrillers, real page turners rich in actual history. And not always easy to read as it is grim in its sensational details, and violent.

I also, just after I finished it, re-viewed the 1997 film based on the book, which has a phenomenal 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which I completely agree with. The book manages something like eight plot lines over the space of a decade; the film narrows it to three central plot lines, focused on fewer main characters, and of course there are alterations to the story, but take my word for it, this is one great film. Both film and book are terrific. The book is certainly richer, darker, sleazier, more disturbing. I mean, Hollywood has to sell tickets, we can’t offend too much, but over all I have no complaints.

The Black Dahlia, the first book, was for him personal, connected to the death of his own mother, set in the late forties. (I'll read My Dark Places, his memoir about his mother, soon). The second book, The Big Nowhere, happens in the early fifties focused on a series of murders of gay men in L. A. and the McCarthy trials that pretty much gutted Hollywood with all the blackballing of supposed Commie filmmakers. The mobster Mickey Cohen has a continuing role in this story, too.

LA Confidential focuses on the solving of the Night Owl murder case, in which six people died, and initially, for which three Black men were convicted. It features three intertwining narratives, in this case of three L.A.P.D. detectives; Bud White, a violent hothead who is particularly driven to protect women, as his mother had been beaten to death by his father; Ed Exley is the straight arrow ambitious guy, and Jack Vincennes is a glamorous detective who also is a consultant to a cop tv show. He sells tips to Hush Hush, which stands for Confidential, a kind of muckraking/gossip column that was very important in the fifties. That's where the book title comes from, of course. Ellroy kind of pays tribute to these entertainingly written public outings of crime and corruption and “filth,” a pre-cursor to social media sites today trying to get at the truth of what has actually happened. And a precurosr to his own work.

One salacious tidbit that figures in this book just as one example of total depravity is Fleur de Lis--a business owned by Pierce Patchett, whose "escort service” offers high-end prostitutes altered by plastic surgery to resemble film stars. Disgusting? Fascinating? Very American? But this book is filled with stories of fifties porn, prostitution and murder. Let’s be clear: Ellroy is very angry and disgusted by the underbelly of Ameican life--corruption, sleaze, violence, hypocrisy. So it’s never that Dragnet theme, “Just the facts, ma'am,” but getting deeper beneath the shiny veneer of American exceptionalism and blind patriotism. Into the muck, the slime of American greed and sin.

The style maybe owes something to “yellow” journalism with its sometimes bombastic prose, an explosion of details, then there are his clipped, incomplete sentences, punchy, like a telegram: Prosty killed on Rodeo Drive. Stop. Tommy gun emptied. Stop. He’s in the rich vein of Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but he’s closest to Hammett in Red Harvest and the Dain Curse, politically motivated thrillers.

The backdrop of this LA story is the image of LA as the colorful American Dream, beaches, babes, cocktails, you can have it all, the golden promise of the twenties and thirties, depicted in all those Hollywood musicals, always already being bulldozed. I love it. Powerful book, remarkably researched and written.

Here’s a trailer for the movie, in which Kim Basinger, a former Playmate of the Year turned actress, plays one of the Fleur de Lis prostitutes, and receives an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress:

Profile Image for Bruce Beckham.
Author 35 books414 followers
September 6, 2016
Perhaps I've been reading too many Agatha Christies, but this one defeated me almost from the word go.

Now I really enjoyed 'The Black Dahlia' by the same author, so I couldn't quite understand what my problem was with 'L.A. Confidential' - such a famous title, and all that.

I thought I could deal with the 1950s west coast cop and narco jargon - though it comes at you like a hail of bullets - not easy for a Limey accustomed to bobbies armed strictly with truncheons and the occasional "Cor blimey". (Probably one to read on a Kindle, with a dictionary and Wiki to hand.)

On reflection, however, it wasn't the strange lingo that did for me. I just went back over the first 15 pages and counted the names of characters that were mentioned. How many would you guess? Five? Ten? Fifteen? Surely not?

No, because the answer is 40.

Call me forgetful, but I hope you can understand why I lost the will to continue. (The death knell being a sneak preview of the page count: a whacking 480.)

I used to run a little training session for budding copywriters, concerning effective headlines. This was based on a piece of well-founded research: learning declines when the number of words in a sentence exceeds 7.

One bright spark pointed out that I ought to find a shorter way of expressing it! I agree.

Profile Image for Jamie.
1,197 reviews116 followers
May 1, 2019
I'm blown away by the epic scope and intricacy of the plot, the characters, the relationships and details.

The movie, as rich and complex as it is, is considerably slimmed down by comparison, and deviates not insubstantially in content though not style. Rich in dialogue, frequent newspaper cutaways and sections of raw, choppy narration sometimes gave me the sense of reading a screenplay for an extended version of the movie. I have to admit to feeling both baffled and awed through much of this, and often frustrated in attempting to piece together a plot that felt at times like trying to slay a hydra, futilely cutting off one head only to have two pop up in its place.

Profile Image for K Kamath.
14 reviews3 followers
September 7, 2011
The fiction I can think of, short-stories and novels, which is worse in prose than rendered on the screen includes, The Godfather, LA Confidential, The Duellists, possibly Ben-Hur. To Have and Have Not offers a case where the film shares the same title as the novella but is just different. One could argue that is true a lot, most movies are different from the literary sources, but to leave the thinking only that far would be a sign of mental laziness, a common condition among our contemporaries. A bad piece of fiction in writing can become a great movie, the way a silly story set to great music turns into an opera and becomes an entertainment far better than its libretto.

The movie "L.A. Confidential" is not only structurally better conceived and rendered than the book, but also is informed by a more integrated and mature mind, ironically, ironic because a movie is, of course, collaborative, while most novels come from the mind of one person. In this case the book is a rambling farrago in need of editing. There are whole sections which are irrelevant either to the art or to the creation of verisimilitude. They are not even entertaining. They are just a waste of words. Sections presented as police reports, news reports, headlines. In a tighter work, those might function a useful alternative to narrative, description, dialogue, but mostly in this book they are superfluous. The are hundreds of pages which re-hash the same details which come out later and are repeated in unskilled prose, crude dialogue, to no esthetic effect. This book is the epitome of a kind of semiliterate writing for an audience that likes to read words and let words pass indiscriminately through its mind, "A page turner." It's okay not to pay attention, eyes passing over the sentences, flipping, skipping, not knowing some words or following the sense of the ideas. It will come out again later.

In addition to the use of devices which are not innovative or new and are handled clumsily like letters, reports, news articles, the sense of place and space and time is completely distorted. There is no operating principle behind the choice of one technique or another, and likewise no principle in the choice of whether the chapter breaks or the we stay with a character, or there's a break in the middle of the chapter, and the narrative of events in some places does not match any passage of actual time. An example of the last flaw, a character in Hollywood or downtown talks on the phone with another character in San Bernardino. One or two pages of dialog later, the distant character arrives at the station with a witness, and the only action in between is that short interrogation, a real-time bit of action which a reader understands. Phone call. Hang up. A conversation with no other time in between, no more than ten minutes, and suddenly the other guy on the phone is there. Even allowing for undescribed time, which is another noticeable reading experiential flaw, this would make a reader believe everywhere in the world is a short distance from everywhere else. Characters go from San Quentin to San Francisco back to LA in a time frame impossible even by private jet, and this is the 1950's, so it is noticeable and clearly just a case of an inept writer and an author with a sense of time and space verging on mental illness.

At some points we get minutiae of thoughts and impressions, and then there's unrelated details as a character again rushes here, there, drives to Lake Arrowhead, no break in the chapter, no break on the page. It's as if the author is just writing and has no idea of the conventions of fiction he's using. This is a professional writer, a successful writer, and he is completely inept. The chapters break and we move around from character to character, place to place, and there are huge leaps in the book from year to year in sections so labeled, but also time passes in the middle of section suddenly as if the character we're with just blacked out and came back suddenly somewhere else, sometimes with breaks in the prose, sometimes not. Bud White is at house in Los Angeles as a neighbor is getting milk, and then is suddenly at the Lake Arrowhead arriving as Lynn Bracken is out walking and Ed Exley has returned to his Los Angeles office. Bud reads Lynn's diary, then calls Ed downtown. They must have passed on the road, a comedic notion. Then after another little break in the prose, Bud is back in Chinatown rousting a junkie musician. There are no connecting descriptions of the significant drive time.

Whether the reader shares the impatience of the writer at those moments or not, the fictional time could be used to relate thoughts, feelings, etc., which are related in other places wastefully and without any concept of economy or even of coherent consciousness of character, psychology, flow of narrative events, you name it. Does the author believe readers share his interest in the stupid unnecessary sections which break up the flow of action and suspense for no apparent reason other than the author's whim? I don't think so. My impression is this guy is mentally ill and he just writes the way his readers read: Words on the page, sentences, look at me, I'm a writer, two more chapters before a do a line and jerk off to pornography. I think a lot of writers are like that.

Which brings us to Ellroy's telling choices of content suggestive of an abnormal interest in certain sexual possibilities, of peculiar relationships, and his own twisted psychology stuck onto characters at random without any idea of unity. Characters as disintegrated as his own writing style. Motive and intention are veneer thin. Isn't this supposed to be a police thriller? A TV crime show has more coherent notions of personality and psychology. Stereotypes would be a step up for this guy.

What fascinates me about this book, and The Godfather, is that other persons read it and extracted components to create something good in an even tighter narrative medium. I am also using the book to exercise my near vision. Too much computer time, reading too far away.

To be just, it is not that a dreadful piece of writing lacks moments of impact. This horrid work has little bits which are moving. But if I were to go into the choices, the proclivities of the author's psyche for subjects and sideshows, there would be no doubt, this man just needs help. His work is perhaps best described as a cry for help, not a desire for accolades.
Profile Image for Nate.
482 reviews20 followers
July 19, 2015
Since at least The Black Dahlia Ellroy has been kicking at the walls to the crime genre with a gleeful gleam in his eye, going for more and more setting, characters, scope and layers upon layers of plot as well as honing and shaping his prose into something more quick and lethal. The Big Nowhere was a major step in this direction and by the prologue of this book the walls are shattered and Ellroy's off and running with his sprawling vision of L.A. from '50 to '58 and an utterly complex series of intertwining stories. Honestly, I thought Big Nowhere was a maze but this shit knocked me on my ass a handful of times with its utter lack of sympathy for my fuzzyheadedness. Sure, the number of crimes and mysteries the protagonists face (and perpetrate) are grimly fascinating, but there's also a tremendous focus on the characters that inhabit Ellroy's L.A. netherworld. It is for these reasons that I call James Ellroy out as a full-blooded writer of historical fiction, not just crime or mystery!

We stick with the three-character setup of the preceding book; again, all three are cops and they're even more interesting and complex than the previous three. We have Bud White, an angry, violent thug of a police officer with a fixation on wife-beaters; Ed Exley, a goody two-shoes rich boy Captain America type; and Jack Vincennes, a greasy narc that courts Hollywood and the gossip mag Hush-Hush. Again, these dudes are interesting characters before they even start to do shit in the story! Ellroy has a gift for creating these unique wrong-side-of-the-tracks cop and criminal types and then just letting them react as they will to the varying circumstances thrown at them. You might not like ANY of these three dudes but I can almost promise you will want to keep turning the pages, watching them stumble ahead, set in their bad ways. Of course, the tertiary characters remain varied and interesting too, including the familiar Ellis Loew and Dudley Smith.

So what is the book actually about? Well, like I said it covers eight years and pretty much everything major that happens in these characters' lives. There's some Big Nowhere followup, a police scandal, a brutal and mystifying mass murder, a gang rape case, a porn ring investigation and even a love story or two as well as probably eight or nine other smaller plots that may or may not have to do with each other. Ellroy fires all of this story at the reader like a full drum magazine from one of the era's famous Thompsons at a merciless pace and with a leaner, more staccato and brutal prose than the preceding books in the L.A. Quartet. Honestly, a lot of these sentences are boiled down to a noun and a verb or even just an adjective. The language of the preceding books stays musical, but it's more sharp and brutal--Ellroy might describe it as more Ornette Coleman than Stan Getz. Dude seems to love his jazz talk.

The environment and setting continues to feel sharply realistic and lived-in, so much so that I could possibly even seeing readers more attuned to fantasy or again, historical fiction really getting into it. The locales are becoming familiar to even a non-L.A. resident like myself; the maze of the inner city, the sprawl of the hills and the void of the desert. Grauman's Chinese Theatre (pre-Mann's), the Pacific Dining Car and the Mocambo. A lot of the descriptive language has been hewn away but Ellroy's masterful hold of the era never lets the environment fall away from the reader for a second. By this point the setting functions as a wonderful living setting and even a kind of character in its own right. It's super grimy and completely seductive. You will probably feel like you need a psychic shower after a stroll through one of these stories. It's fun, but gross.

I really love these books and am glad I found them, even if I am a bit wary that I have to leave the comforting world of crime soon for the confusing, harsh world of politics if I want to keep with Ellroy after White Jazz. They're pitch black and filled with bad people doing bad things, but they grab me and demand to be read like no other. They're consistently growing and challenging the reader in content and style. They resurrect a dead time like the best historical novels. I can't say enough good things about them! They're not for everyone, but everyone should give them a try, excluding the particularly sensitive. It's like... imagine if you were walking somewhere and took a shortcut through an alley, and came across a five or six-feet long object wrapped in a rug and dumped on the side of the wall. It's vaguely human-sized, smells horrible and is covered in flies. Do you look under the flap on the corner of the rug? Do you even consider looking? If so, these books are for you!

That's right! If reading about corruption, sustained and blatant racism and homophobia, gruesome murder and/or sex crimes profoundly bothers you then yeah, you need to avoid Ellroy's shit like the plague. That's not to say that these books in any way condone or endorse these things, Ellroy self-identifies as a Lutheran moralist and the bad guys often get theirs...but if you wanna read a realistic, unflinching look at a merciless world of crime this kinda shit is gonna go down and this is the guy to tell you about it. I wanna see the movie now! It's one of my dad's favorites but I never paid attention, probably because even the movie's plot was too confusing to keep a dumbass kid like myself's focus. I'm kind of wondering how the hell someone would turn this twelve-headed hydra of a book into a concise two-hour movie...

EDIT: I watched the movie last night. It was excellent. Obviously massively scaled down and cleaned up for the silver screen, but on the whole a great adaptation. I don't really wanna watch Black Dahlia, Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson are both attractive people but terrible actors. They need to make a Big Nowhere movie now.
Profile Image for Aditya.
270 reviews83 followers
October 20, 2020
In nature and scope L.A. Confidential is a sprawling epic dealing with age old themes of justice, redemption and ambition coated in layers and layers of plot filled with deception, violence and depravity. All of Ellroy's signature mannerisms are in place - three dimensional characters fighting their own demons, unrelenting cynicism, labyrinthine plotting and enough darkness that if you gift the book with a bottle of booze and Tom Waits' songs to a depressed individual, you might be charged with abetting a suicide.

The lives of three cops intersect as they handle different elements of the same Nite Owl Case, a coffee shop robbery that turned incredibly brutal leaving six dead people. There are at least another half a dozen subplots from real life events such as Lana Turner's affair with a mob underling to Ellroy's raison d'être - dog eat dog world of police politics and demented serial killers. Unlike most other books every throwaway scene, every little detail gets a callback later in the narrative. They all form a web of deceit that is slowly unraveled over the course of the book. It is not so much as difficult to understand as it is difficult to keep track of because the ensemble is gigantic. Hence there is a lot of unavoidable exposition.

Ed Exley, aloof hypocritical idealist with honed survival instincts and blatant ambition is governed by a sense of justice that is based on hollow foundations. Bud White, a loose cannon with a penchant for violence is a thug playing cop. Relatively inconspicuous Jack Vincennes still paying for one fatal mistake is on a doomed path to redemption. Exley is my favorite and one of the best written characters in crime fiction. He probably has the most sympathetic goals of anyone in the ensemble yet he is probably the most unsympathetic character. Is he a manipulative, coward whose motto is my way or the highway or is he the smartest guy in the force who finds the most pragmatic balance between justice and compromise? They are cracked mirror images of one another. Vincennes and Exley both made their reputation on lies, Vincennes is outed as a joke, Exley rides high on the lies. Both Exley and White are cheated on but see their respective reactions to the same.

Ellroy is tremendous at character motivation and consistency. So while every individual is playing an angle, loyalties change over the course of the book but they all stay true to who they are, all of which makes for some riveting drama. Great dramas need great villains, Ellroy is up to the task Dudley Smith is the best villain in crime fiction. His theatrical personality, unpredictable ways and whip smart intelligence often makes him the most charismatic character in crime fiction's best series.

The writing is initially hard to follow, every unnecessary word is removed. 'She heard a guttural roar.' becomes 'Guttural roar' or 'I walked into the building.' becomes 'In building.'. But once you get the hang of it, you see the prose though not literary or beautiful in a conventional sense adds to the overall atmosphere of the book. A detached, disruptive writing style for our cold, distant protagonists. It is the zenith of Ellroy's staccato. This is a 500 page book with 1200 pages worth of plot. Ellroy also adds in reports from the newspapers and scandal sheets. The seedy rags filled with forced alliterations braggadocio and inventive insults are some of the best parts of the book.

It could have ended up among the best crime books of all time but L.A. Confidential unluckily falters in its last lap. Ellroy solves the mystery but does not offer a resolution to the Ed Exley - Dudley Smith rivalry. It has been the main focus of the narrative, so it does not feel so much as plot ambiguity as much as a forced "To be Continued" thing. To my further dismay, Smith's ultimate fate in the sequel White Jazz underwhelms. It concentrates on a subplot that rounds up the character of Exley satisfactorily giving him an arc that is humane and revolting in equal measures but fails to provide closure to the clash that had been in the works since Ellroy's last book The Big Nowhere. The ending feels rushed as other pieces of the ensemble feels ignored in favor of Exley. Ellroy's sin-sational crime epic is fascinating to read until it stumbles underneath its own weight in the last part. Rating - 4/5.

Movie Review - I loved the movie a lot more before I read the book. It compresses an eight-ten hour story into a two hour movie and does a wonderful job of it. The trouble is so much is lost the movie is a faint echo of what made the book a classic in the genre. 8/10

Quotes: her love had shaped his performance so that all he had to do was act natural—and keep certain secrets hidden Ellroy describes a marriage

a man sticking one foot off a cliff, hopping on one leg

a credibility he has for being so calculating Ellroy makes everything nice sound ugly and I love it.
Profile Image for Vaios Pap.
95 reviews12 followers
March 15, 2018
Κάτι περισσότερο από αριστούργημα!!! Καθηλωτικό από την πρώτη έως την τελευταία σελίδα.
Profile Image for Nancy Oakes.
1,938 reviews750 followers
October 2, 2020
full post here with no spoilers:

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime case and the price for clearing it was very, very high."

An understatement to be sure.

I'm one of those weirdos who actually preferred the novel to the film adaptation, and I think it's because it had been so long since I'd seen the movie that it I'd forgotten about it. I recently watched the film again after finishing the novel and was a bit thrown off -- not only had the story been cut, which due to its complexity I'd expected, but parts of the plot were changed as well, even down to who was killed in the Nite Owl Coffee Shop. James Ellroy himself once said about the film that it was "about as deep as a tortilla."

Luckily that's not the case with the novel. There is nothing shallow about LA Confidential, which goes straight for the jugular and doesn't let go.

LA Confidential has been criticized by readers for its rather labyrinthine complexity involving numerous subplots, but I didn't have an issue with it and frankly, could care less, since after having read its predecessors The Black Dahlia and The Big Nowhere, I've become used to Ellroy's penchant for grandiose, and I was caught up in each and every turn taken by this story. What I really want to say is that it's a firecracker of a read that sucked me so far down the rabbit hole of Ellroy's 1950s Los Angeles that it was a relief when I finally got out. Again, not perfect, but pretty damn close.

It's another book in the Quartet that is uberbleak, not for the squeamish, should come with warning labels, and yes, it's long in the reading, but I enjoyed every second of it. Every nanosecond of it.
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