4.0 out of 5 stars
The darkness steps lightly, Jan. 16 2007
In L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy has concocted a darkness that permeates every chapter of the story. This darkness is both oppressing and liberating, it is suffocatingly lethal yet embraces with a soft velvet touch, it tosses and turns in tormented souls or lies dormant in troubled minds. This darkness blurs the line between good and bad, conceals the past and distorts the present, and provides a backdrop that places in the limelight, the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles in the 1950s, the glowing light of the Nite Owl, the gaudy neon signs, the golden curls and satin gown of Veronica Lake look-a-like, Lynn Bracken.
James Ellroy's razor sharp wit carries the plot at a quick pace with his fragmented style of writing. The short sentences and omission of unnecessary words sets the tone of the story; there is no place for dilly-dallying in the cutthroat world of cops and robbers. The fragments are smart, vague and perfectly timed, often leaving the reader to figure out what is on the character's mind. Ellroy is somehow able to achieve elegant flow and continuity with curt sentences and short chapters.
Ellroy balances the graphic violence portrayed in the story with the subtlety of the storyline. He draws pictures of dramatic characters, in speech and gesture and in their actions. Yet, the story he spins is full of subtle twists and turns and you may be lost if you are not careful. The author likes to tease the reader by dropping clues long before the resolution, as if to say, "I dare you to figure it out." For example, we are introduced to David Mertens in one of the first chapters, long before we are able to perceive his significance in the novel.
Originally attracted to the book because the movie remains one of my favorites, I found that the movie does the book justice. Rarely has the book-to-movie conversion succeeded in capturing the essence of the book. The only other example I can think of is The English Patient. However, I must say that my image of the book was influenced by the performances of Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey as well as the other outstanding members of the cast.
L.A. Confidential is a masterpiece on the workings of the human mind. The complexity of the characters makes it impossible to discern between good and evil. There is dedicated cop who resorts to extreme physical violence, the goody-two-shoes cop who will do anything for advancement, and the ex-hooker with a heart of gold. The finely interwoven web means that their fates are all intricately linked. Everyone is haunted by their ghosts, everyone has a history, and no one lives with a clear conscience.