It's a spider web. It's a labyrinth, and the minotaur at its heart is both a psychotic murderer and the central selves of its three main characters. As a surface read, this novel is a stellar exemplar of the noir California genre. The Los Angeles it conjures up is both a nightmare and a reality (Johnny Stompanato, the gangster lover of Lana Turner, is a character, and his murder by Turner's daughter provides a final knife-twist in the plot). Ellroy's dark city exhibits more seething, foul vice crawling over itself than I have ever encountered between the covers of one book. Yet it turns out to be about the ultimate redemption, or at least coming to terms with self, of the three primary characters. Ed Exley, a privileged son whose apparently burnished war record is a sham; Jack Vincennes, whose weakness for pills and booze has led him into a shameful error he can't shake; and Bud White, who is trying to overcome his powerlessness to prevent his mother's brutal murder by finding wife-beaters and rapists and punishing them all to a bloody pulp. This trio of damaged and damaging cops all converge on an insanely ramified late night slaying at the Nite Owl cafe. It lines to prostitution, drugs, plastic surgery as a racket, harder than hard-core porn, organized crime, blackmail, extortion, and a host of petty and major criminals both inside the LAPD and outside. Ultimately, though, the lines go way further back by 35 years, to a series of child murders done to create a grotesque little eros--a thing composed of the wings of birds and parts of children. This horrific image should tip you off--you are in the presence of something more epic and mythic than mere noir. What these policemen are searching for and combating is the destruction of innocence and love--their own innocence and ability to love as well as the long-dead children. Ultimately, despite distrust, rivalry and even hatred, they combine forces and experience to untangle the whole ghastly mess. Vincennes dies redeemed by full confession to his loving wife, Bud pushes through tremendous temptations to succumb to Neanderthal violence to actually use his mind to fight evil, and Exley confronts his own and his father's secrets. The psychotic murderer at the root of it all proves to have been the kind of monster we keep inside ourselves--repeatedly altered by plastic surgery and imperfectly controlled by drugs, he keeps destroying until he is unmasked and dis-enabled. Finally--this IS a noir novel--the consciously wicked man remains standing, and powerful, at the close. Read it if you can. It's a hell of a trip to redemption.