Set in the late 60's and early 70's, Mr. Ellroy takes us through all the key events in American life during those years. We have the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the presidency of Richard Nixon, the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs, and the upcoming Watergate debacle. All these events are connected by the slimy, sinister Underworld. J. Edgar Hoover, also called 'the old girl," Richard Nixon, and Howard "Dracula" Hughes all appear as lesser characters in this novel. The real protagonists are their minions who both work to please their bosses and to pursue personal agendas designed to make them richer and settle old scores. The dialogue is fantastic. Like Irvine Welsh and John King, Mr. Ellroy uses the dialect of his characters to accentuate reality so that his narrative could be mistaken for typed recordings. Dialogue between J. Edgar Hoover and Dwight Holly and Holly and Richard Nixon are presented as actual transcripts. The language is fantastic. Mr. Ellroy writes of flunkies and peaceniks, light-skinned beaners and spooks, Voodoo VistaVision, black militants and hated reds, Mr. Clean, fat cats who futz, boozy hoo-haw, the snitch-file index, a shelf that shimmy-shimmed and the Peeper whose "Adam's apple did the Fug and the Peppermint Twist." This is a fantastic read.
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To paraphrase Winston Churchill, America is a lie, wrapped up in a deception, inside a thin shell of morality. And James Ellroy keeps taping that shell, testing for weak-points and showing us it is hollow. Do you have the stomach to see what they have been feeding us all this time?
DIG IT: any bootlegger's son can become the President - assassination will automatically activate sanctification. Organized crime does not exist - but that never stopped it from running the country. And elections are not easy to fix - but in any case easier to fix than the World Series. DOCUMENT INSERT: the most powerful man fighting Communism is a cross-dressing director with a wiretap fetish - morality standards and irony galore. Dominican Republic is the new location-location-location for blackjack-tables and chorus-line girls - if el Jefe can voodoo-hex the slaves from revolting. And Tricky Dick's price is 5 million - uncontrolled scatology at no extra charge. CAREFUL NOW: infiltrate means collaborate; collaborate means condone; condone means finance; finance means plan; plan means precipitate - at which point did the investigation turn into instigation?
This is the third installment of the American-Underbelly trilogy (the masterpiece American Tabloid being the first and the excellent The Cold Six Thousand being the second). One does not necessarily have to read them in succession - but it surely helps. This is not an easy read, the story will serpent back and eat any one of its multiple tails, more than once. A second reading is recommended.Read more ›
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I loved L.A. Confidential and White Jazz-- these had near-raw American magic, like jazz played by Mississipi delta illiterates who cannot read music notes, have no idea about scales, but are bursting with pure original something. However, beyond a certain point one must go beyond unstructured staccato scream. I mean, I'm all for declarative sentences. But three-word-sentences and three-sentenec-paragraphs can only take you so far. Even three-card-monte players occcasionally go into a longer patter. This book is good. But it could be better.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
65 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Malice in WonderlandSept. 24 2009
The Ginger Man
- Published on Amazon.com
The Underworld USA trilogy began in 1995 with publication of American Tabloid and covered events in the early sixties. Five years passed before readers could dig into The Cold Six Thousand. Blood's a Rover (title taken from a poem by Houseman) begins shortly after the King and Kennedy assasinations in 1968 and takes us through the Chicago riots and Nixon's elections. Like previous entries, the book delivers an alternate, underground history of the partnership between Hoover's FBI and various criminal elements. Ellroy entices us through the looking glass to demonstrate the impact of that unsavory alliance on modern political history. Characters from previous books abound (Dwight Holley, Wayne Tedrow) as well as public figures both significant (Nixon, Howard Hughes) and obscure (Sal Mineo)
Ellroy's Hoover is not much concerned with organized crime. Instead he is obsessed with student protesters, civil rights demonstrators, non-existant domestic Reds, and any politician he believes to be aligned with these groups. In this dark world, former cop Wayne Tedrow meets with mob heads after a drop off of cash to candidate Nixon and notices on the wall, a photo showing one of the gangsters playing golf with Pope Pius.
The author's style is stacatto, high-adrenaline narrative alternating with newspaper headlines and supposed excerpts from personal journals. A chapter begins: "Dwight read files. A radio spritzed the news. Nixon and Humphrey grubbed for votes and see-sawed poll-wise. Jimmy Ray and Sirhan Sirhan fermented in custody." Using this approach, Ellroy packs a great deal of action and emotional impact into a few paragraphs. Over hundreds of pages, the result can be exhausting.
I found all 3 books hugely entertaining as literature and utterly unnerving as political myth-making. The reader dismisses much of it as bizarre speculation. However, after years of journalistic revelations such as White House sanctioned Mob attempts on Castro's life, the reader finds himself asking if parts of Ellroy's story sounds more real than various official histories.
The fictional narrator begins this final nightmare volume by telling us "This book derives from stolen public files and usurped private journals. It is the sum of personal adventure and forty years of scholarship...I did what I did and I saw what I saw and learned my way through the rest of the story." Conspiracy tales such as this can be oddly comforting. They replace the horror which results from chance and the grand indifference of the universe with tragedy that is the product of the guiding hand of malice. Evil, while monstrous and frightening, can be opposed. Accident must be endured.
The immense appeal of the Underworld Trilogy derives as much from this replacement of chaos with dark design as it does from Ellroy's unique narrative gifts. It is an appeal that produces excitement if it is understandably light on comfort.
43 of 50 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant conclusion to the trilogy plays with the reader's expectationsSept. 26 2009
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First off, I'll admit some bias here. I'm a big Ellroy fan, and American Tabloid is neck-and-neck with Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities for my favourite novel of all time. There appear to be a couple of Ellroy haters among the reviewers so far, and fair enough, he's a love-or-hate writer. If you don't like Ellroy, you won't like Blood's a Rover. If, like me, you do like Ellroy, then this book will fulfil yet confound your every expectation.
I won't bother with outlining the plot other than to say it's as tangled and propulsive as you'd expect from Ellroy. What some may want to know is how it compares to American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand. It's probably closer in tone to the former, lacking the latter's highly stylised presentation. It's a smoother read, in other words, but still requires some investment on the reader's part. That investment is rewarded many times over, however, and things barrel along at a wonderful page-turning rate.
There are two main distinctions between this and Ellroy's earlier work. The first is his portrayal of women. While there are some recognisable tics, such as the younger male characters' borderline oedipal fixations on older women, and a tendency for those same women to be physically or pschologically scarred, Ellroy this time gives his female characters more room to breathe and develop. They are more than objects of obsession there to torture the male characters.
The other difference is the heart of the piece; one could argue Ellroy's work perhaps lacked emotional depth, but not so with Blood's a Rover. Oddly for an author of his vintage, this is perhaps the most mature book of his career.
It's also his most personal novel since The Black Dahlia. One character, Don Crutchfield, is ostensibly based on a real life private eye still alive and working today, but the character on the page is clearly based on Ellroy's young self. The book may also leave you questioning your idea of the author's politics. He has wilfully played up his right wing public persona, but the politics of Blood's a Rover (and when looking at the trilogy as a whole) skew left of centre.
Some might accuse Ellroy of putting style over substance, but one aspect of this novel clearly illustrates his skill as a straight-up storyteller. It's when he starts playing with your expectations of the book, turning the story on its head so that you can't even take the narrative itself at face value, that you realise why he is the greatest living crime writer. It's virtuoso stuff.
I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this book back in April, and it has stuck with me since then. It's a brilliant conclusion to the Underworld USA trilogy, and any Ellroy fan will be seduced once again by the master of the hard word.
35 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Third Best of the TrilogySept. 28 2009
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In this final installment of the "Underworld U.S.A." trilogy Wayne Tedrow, Dwight Holly and the boys are back carrying out their portion of an American history that might have been. They have their hands in the cover ups of the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, Howard Hughes' purchase of Vegas casinos, and the mob's Caribbean connections. And that's just for starters.
The plot loosely centers around an armored car heist in Los Angeles involving emeralds and millions of dollars. Holly, L.A. police officer Scotty Bennett, and a young wheelman named Donald "Peeper" Crutchfield are all trying to figure out the robbery (when they are not carrying out CIA directives, mob directives, or trying to figure out the mysterious women in their lives).
I really liked "American Tabloid." I loved "The Cold Six Thousand." I cannot say the same for "Blood's A Rover." This novel just doesn't quite have the energy level of the first two. It is an amazing piece of work, but there is just so much going on and there is just too much repetition. (How many times does the reader have to be told that a character is getting amped up to read through their heist files one more time? My guess is that I saw that scene played out at least a dozen times.)
The characters even seem somewhat repetitious. Despite varying backgrounds and ethnicities, they all have the same amazingly vast vocabularies for people who are essentially self-centered, schemers who are prone to extreme violence.
Really, I wanted to like "Blood's A Rover," but it is just okay. I can only recommend this novel to those who have read AND enjoyed "American Tabloid" and "The Cold Six Thousand."
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Parody Of ItselfJuly 14 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
First of all, I've read a number of Elroy books and loved them. American Tabloid and LA Confidential were great, and even the Cold Six Thousand was enjoyable.
But Blood's A Rover: not so much. Frankly, I spent so much time in the book that I don't want to go too deep into a review because I feel like I've spent enough of my life on this one.
Those that have read Elroy, imagine the things that make Elroy's prose unique inflated to the point that they've become parodies of themselves. The characters in Blood's A Rover are absurd (both in behavior and speech), and his choppy writing style, which at one time may have evoked a more modern Chandler, now just comes off as incredibly annoying.
No one's debating that the book is quite an accomplishment: Elroy ties a huge amount of information and story lines together, and it was clearly a massive undertaking. In the end though, it's just not very well written or edited, and I began to hate the damn thing by the time I was halfway through it.
For folks new to Elroy and looking for some of his work, keep away from this and get American Tabloid, LA Confidential, or The Big Nowhere. For past fans, like me, it's best to hope for a better effort next time - or, better yet, check out the Philip Kerr's wonderful noir trilogy Berlin Noir: March Violets; The Pale Criminal; A German Requiem, which is well worth a read.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Boomer BustJuly 23 2010
R. H. Greene
- Published on Amazon.com
I've read everything James Ellroy has ever written, and loved almost all his work (KILLER ON THE ROAD is a hard book to love, though it's very well written--he just gets too far inside the head of a really repellant character for the book to be anything other than brilliantly repellant). I was pretty itchy to see what he'd come up with after such a long wait. Sadly, what he came up with is (for me) the most schematic, thin and unintentionally comedic book of an illustrious career.
Everything that's great about earlier works like WHITE JAZZ, THE BLACK DAHLIA and AMERICAN TABLOID is present, but in parodic form. The telegraphic style of WHITE JAZZ (which makes it a tough read for some) makes its return, especially in the chapters dedicated to the voyeuristic peeper/spy "Crutch" Crutchfield, but the balletic control of the technique has gone missing; what used to read like the most hardboiled of hardboiled prose plays here like an homage to the mundanely blank-voiced Gertrude Stein. Los Angeles returns as a key location, but it's not the vivid nightmare L.A. of Ellroy's earlier imaginings, but rather a curiously topography-less environment about as detailed as a Google map.
As in the L.A. Quartet, all three of his corrupt cop protagonists are kinky psycho-sexual obsessives and/or fetishists, though their fetish objects seem to wax and wane based on the narrative's hectic plotting. It's particularly disconcerting to see Wayne Tedrow Jr. from THE COLD SIX THOUSAND morph rather suddenly from a man who lusts after his dead father's much younger wife into a man obsessed with the black widow (in the African American sense) of an accidental victim of a killing he's been commanded to perform.
Tedrow's stepmother dies of cancer rather conveniently to make way for this total shift in his psyche, which gives an idea of some of the lazy plotting in this book. Not one but two of Ellroy's secretive secondary characters keep extremely explicit (and hyper literary) diaries that are quoted from liberally, which makes no sense for them as people, seemingly because Ellroy can't think of any other way to get inside their heads without violating his decision to have the novel proper told only from the perspective of his three "bad lieutenants." And the book even fails as a mystery, which is still nominally Ellroy's genre; you can smell some of the principal plot twists from a mile away.
Worst of all is the way this book is basically a Cook's Tour of the same baby boomer right of passage b.s. many of us who don't or barely remember that era are tired of hearing about. The assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King hang over everything like a pall of smoke (I use a cliche to describe a cliche), the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention are told from the p.o.v. of Ellroy's cop provocateurs, Richard Nixon (who's part of the plot) lurches toward his Watergate apocalypse, etc.
Ellroy throws J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes and Nixon into the mix as characters, but he never sketches them in enough detail to make them convincing. Even the crazed Hughes and the senile Hoover basically talk the way too many of the secondary characters in this book seem to--in pure exposition, designed to advance a very plotty plot.
I want to see this book as a transitional one, but it could be a decadent effort from a writer who has said his piece. After all, WHITE JAZZ, THE BLACK DAHLIA and even KILLER ON THE ROAD were important transformations in Ellroy's style of writing and in his thinking too, and all three of those books are riveting reads. BLOOD'S A ROVER is one of those books that can be really upsetting to a rabid fan, because it's close enough in tone (but not achievement) to the works you loved that it makes you question how much you'd love them if you read them again. Something tells me THE BLACK DAHLIA and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL would stand, but I fear for my fresh responses to AMERICAN TABLOID and THE COLD SIX THOUSAND if I pick up either one of them while this one is still roving around in my head.
Ellroy's muse is a hardy one, but the late 60s seem to have completely defeated him, at least for this reader. For all the restless action and typically extreme violence, Ellroy's creations just aren't up to seeming like defining archetypes or prime movers of an era they don't really seem to have come from. They're like hooligans from out of town spray painting their names on the wall of history, and they made this reader feel like the cranky shopkeeper who has to roll up his sleeves, get out some acetone and scrub the bricks off.