History has always been written by the victors - and they have the tendency to iron-out all its bloody details and hide all their dirty secrets. This a TRUE CLASSIC: imagine a history book that reads like a tabloid. Every story up close and personal, complete with every gory detail described. IN CINEMASCOPE & TECHNICOLOR.
The dirty making of the Kennedy fortune. Hoover as a hypochondriac cross-dressing extortionist. Everybody wiretapping everybody. The Camelot President clocked at 6 minutes. The Mob rigs the election for said President; invades Cuba with clansmen and Castro's exiles in blood-lust frenzy; gets burned - and gets even the only way it knows how. And in the middle of it all, two FBI agents trapped in a downwards spiral of serving multiple masters.
JAMES ELLROY does not pretend to write the dark side: he has barely escaped it himself and knows all its intoxicating scents and shadows. Read for the plausible details of history's margins. Enjoy the staccato prose of natural wit, verbatim FBI communication files and 50's Tabloid lingo.
on April 9, 2002
Reading all the reviews about this book is quite repetitive : everyone seems to consider Ellroy as a cute story-teller with complicated but breathtaking plots. I have even read that American Tabloid was a good MTV thriller !!!
Well, one cannot understand Ellroy without having read some of his major books and especially my dark places, his most personnal work. Ellroy is a story-teller, that's a fact, but whereas America has a bunch of story tellers, it only has one Ellroy. His style is unique and exhilarating and American tabloid is probably the best example of his talented writing. Read it and be prepared to have no sleep for a while. This book, whose plot is inspired by FBI files recently made public, is hard to appreciate because it is mature, tenseful, nervous and also so very dark. That's the way Ellroy is and that's the way he is, as far as I'm concerned, one of America's greatest talents in writing.
on April 29, 2004
Ellroy's "American Tabloid" takes the Kennedy-Bay of Pigs era and throws it in the shredder, hacking through the Golden Age myths of Camelot and the reader's pre-conceptions about the JFK presidency.
America has never looked so seedy or corrupt. In a work that should be accompanied by a Quentin Tarantino-selected soundtrack, Ellroy spins a tale of duplicity, false alliances, and mutual interest that alternately unites and tears apart the men of the CIA, the FBI, the Mob, the Teamsters, and teven he insane Howard Hughes. The trio of anti-heroes who drive the story forward, Pete Bondurant (hand-cuff snapping hired muscle), Kemper Boyd (Kennedy wannabe from the CIA), and Ward Littel (fallen FBI angel) rub shoulders with the Kennedys, J. Edgar Hoover, and other infamous movers and shakers from the period.
One hopes that Ellroy's exhilirating tale is not historically accurate, but Ellroy weaves enough historical detail that you feel as if "you are there, live!" If even one tenth of Ellroy's tale *is* true, then we are reminded how fragile and savage our American experiment with democracy really is.
on July 26, 2003
As a reader of primarily non-fiction (history/economics), I am no expert on popular authors. However, after reading American Tabloid, it is clear that James Ellroy is a cut above the bestseller-writing hacks. The story is fascinatingly complex, and focuses on recent history as seen through the eyes of three very different lead fictional characters. Ellroy reminds one of Gore Vidal in his tendency to use fictional characters and their perceptions of what is going on around them to express his own historical interpretations. Since much of his historical interpretations are conjecture involving conspiracies, the novel is the perfect writing medium for Ellroy. He turns actual historical figures into peripheral characters in the lives of the fictional ones. Ellroy's distortions of history are amusing, entertaining, and fairly harmlesss. Readers who were put off by Ellroy's esoteric writing style in previous novels (White Jazz, L.A. Confidential) need not worry. This time around, he is a bit more reader-friendly. Above all, the story is top-notch. This is a rather lengthy book, but you will breeze through it. It is a pleasure to read.
on October 28, 2002
In "American Tabloid", James Ellroy achieves what few authors ever accomplish. He flawlessly writes his own characters into the political and mob world of the late 1950's and early 1960's, and he makes his plot believeable. As you read conversations that include, JFK, RFK, Sam Giancanna and other famous mob bosses, you have to wonder "this IS fiction, isn't it"
"American Tabloid" focuses on the mafia's role in the election of JFK, the Bay of Pigs, and the JFK assasination. As in all of Ellroy's books, no one gets away clean. Pete Boudurant, mob bagman and muscle; Kemper Boyd, FBI agent, CIA operative, looking out only for number one; and Ward J. Little, an FBI agent with a bizzare love/hate obsession with the Kennedy's. These ruthless men and their dealings provide the framework for one of the most brutal, ambitious novels ever written.
Ellroy has finally perfected his staccatto prose that he dabbled with in "LA Confidential" and experimented with openly in "White Jazz". The effect is like a literary high, as the book manages to develop several complex charchters with 50's/60's slang and short sentances. The book picks up quickly and never lets up. This book turned me onto the world of James Ellroy, and any reader with an interest in crime fiction needs to read this. Ellroy's second masterpiece, after "LA Confidential".
on September 7, 2002
With American tabloid James Ellroy has created something remarkable and brilliant. Defying many who would pigeon-hole him as simply a crime writer, Ellroy comes into his own as very astute political observer.
Tracing the fortunes of 3 ruthless men in the run up to the Kennedy assassination, Ellroy masterfully weaves a tapestry of intrigue that never fails to capture the readers imagination. The three men, kemper Boyd: a Machiavellian FBI agent/Kennedy consort/CIA operative, Ward J Littell: an FBI agent who finds himself becoming disillusioned with both his job and J Edgar Hoover's rabid campaign against communism. And Pete Bondurant, sometime contract killer, shakedown man and Howard Hughes's own personal Mr fixit.
Of course everyone knows that the book is leading up to the assassination of JFK. But it's how Ellroy gets us there, and the theories that he presents that really set this book apart. As fascinating as Ellroy's dissection of the JFK conspiracy is, it never leaves behind in any way the character development of all three protagonists. Kemper Boyd who's own particular house of cards start to tumble with the inevitable results. Ward J Littell who from seeing the Kennedy administration as his own (and indeed America's) personal salvation, starts to realise that reality is a much less idealistic proposition. And Pete Bondurant, a man who like Boyd is walking a tightrope between the mob, the CIA and his own conscience.
The scale and ambition of tabloid are amazing. Taking us from early 1958 right up to November 22nd 1963 and *that* motorcade, Ellroy never lets the tension drop. It is a tribute to Ellroy's skill as a writer that the 500+ page book never once drags,and if anything defies the reader to put it down lest they miss something.
A true masterpiece of contemporary fiction.
on July 19, 2002
I don't want to bore anybody and discuss the strengths of this book in great detail; other reviewers have already said everything about AT that needs to be said. Let me just say that it is a breathtaking thriller; a mesmerizing description of a fascinating period in American history; and a crazy maze of interwoven fictitious and historically true events. Let me warn ya'll: Do not start reading this book while studying for finals, finishing a project, or getting ready to get married: you'll fail the bar, get fired, or lose your loved one. This book is a page turner; it's basically impossible to put it down before you know what finally happens to Kemper Boyd, Ward Littel, and Pete Bondurant, and their crazy friends from Camelot, the mob (watch out for the duck: "Quark, Quark"), and the insane Cuban brain splasher faction.
What you should not expect from this book is historically accurate information. Take in mind that this is a novel, not a history book. Does anybody seriously believe that such a large number of people knew (and know) the truth abouth Kennedy's assassination and none of them ever talked, none of them ever revealed the truth, not even on their deathbed? It takes a fool to believe that. However, I don't believe that Ellroy would ever claim to make an attempt at rewriting American history. What he does, though, is painting a vivid picture of the Kennedy years, a dense description of the people that defined this time and the events that shaped this and coming eras.
There were a few things I didnt't particulary like (that's why I didn't award the book the highest possible rating).
I just don't understand why Ellroy's main characters always have to be such super heros. Had this not been fiction but a real story, Pete Bondurant would have had his brain blasted out on several occasions. E.g., the way he takes out whole packs of Cuban thugs sometimes borders on the comical.
Another thing that I found somewhat irritating were the never-ending effusions of profanities. I can not imagine and I have never heard anybody using the f... word as many times as Ellroy's characters do. I can't help it, but I am under the impression that Ellroy just wants to demonstrate that, the successfull author he is, he can basically write whatever he wants and however he wants.
And finally, the ending was disappointing. It seems as if there was a specific reason for Ellroy to end the book in such hasty a way. Perhaps the manuscript was due, I don't know. But the final pages of AT were about the lamest Ellroy has ever written.
However, despite its few shortcomings, I consider this book a great achievement. I don't know of any novel in which fiction and historic events are interwoven in such an artful and artistic way, and I can't wait to start reading "The Cold Sixthousand".
on July 5, 2002
Cops act like criminals, criminals act like cops, and the twain collides and melds over and over again. There are no good guys in "American Tabloid," just guys who are mired in various levels of corruption. Ankle deep, waist deep, and in over their heads. One of the lessons James Ellroy gives us is that once you've touched your toe to the muck it will eventually suck you down. Redemption may present itself, but Ellroy's characters are so far around the bend that even good things are done for all the wrong reasons. In an introduction Mr. Ellroy tells us he's going to create the new myth of the Camelot years - the dark myth - and he succeeds admirably.
In the tautest prose between covers we follow a handful of near and complete psychopaths as their lives intersect through John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign, and his 1000 day reign. Big shots and underlings alike. Their machinations are complex, and almost always involve extortion, but solutions are often simple - a beating for a lesson, a bullet to the head for the more recalcitrant. But why stop there when torture, and dismemberment are so fulfilling. The lead characters suffer, but except for one ex-Jesuit seminarian become FBI agent, become mob lawyer, the suffering is physical rather than existential, and it's so much easier to deal with a migraine than a crisis of conscience.
"American Tabloid," for all the horror contained therein, is one of the best books I've read in the past five years. It's right up there with Cormack McCarthy's "Border Trilogy," but where McCarthy can go sentimental, James Ellroy never lets up.
on April 30, 2002
James Ellroy's taut, clipped phrases and lightning fast, head-spinning style is an acquired taste. When I first picked up L.A. Confidential, I hated it. His style just totally turned me off. After a few chapters, I was totally hooked. American Tabloid is more of the same...
The book follows three men, Pete Bondurant, Ward Littell, and Kemper Boyd, through a maze of corruption, murder, and narcotics, eventually leading to the order to execute the President of the United States. I've always been interested in the conspiracy theories that surround the assassination of J.F.K., but I've never seen the Cuban/C.I.A./Mafia theory spelled out so thoroughly. The best way to describe reading this book is that it's like looking in a dirty toilet that's being flushed....All this filth is floating at the surface, and as it inexorably gets sucked down, it all mingles together before going down the pipes. The various fictional characters mingle with real-life figures such as J. Edgar Hoover, Jimmy Hoffa, L.B.J., John, Robert, and Joe Kennedy, and Fidel Castro, among others. Everyone in this book is crooked, and it's VERY entertaining watching Ellroy juggle dozens of different subplots and characters, heading them all in totally unexpected directions. A must-read for fans of hard-boiled crime epics.
My only beef is the same one I had with L.A. Confidential: L.A. Confidential was the third book in a four book series, and American Tabloid is the follow-up to those books. I still haven't read the other L.A. books, so there were times in Tabloid that I felt that I had missed someting. There is no mention anywhere about the connection to the other books, which makes it hard for a new reader to just jump in.
on April 25, 2002
I "discovered" Ellroy through reading the L.A. quartet, and to be honest I wanted him to stay in that milieu because it was so dazzlingly entertaining to vicariously live there through his many characters (Dave Klein, Danny Upshaw, Ed Exley, Bud White, Buzz Meeks, Mal Considine, Bucky Bleikert, et al I miss ya!!!)
So with some reservation I ventured into the "political/historical" musings of Mr. Ellroy....and darn it if he doesn't have me hooked. NOW I really do admire the sheer talent of this brilliant, twisted, crazy spinner of yarns. Let's not even attempt to do a plot overview here (this is an Ellroy book after all) all you need to know are JFK, RFK, J. Edgar Hoover, Hoffa, The CIA, The OUTFIT, Cuba, Howard Hughes and a country definig moment for the late 20th Century... In the midst of it all is a brutal henchman Pete Bondurant and two of the most morally compromised G-Men ever put on paper, Ward Littell and Kemper Boyd. Pete Bondurant the monster who shields his heart with violence, Kemper Boyd Dr. Frankstein and Ward Littell his creation.
James Ellroy opens the book stating that America never really had an "innocence" to lose. How could you lose something you didn't have at inception, he states, and this book will make you whole-heartedly agree. James Ellroy is after bigger game with this book and is a less pretentious version of books like LIBRA, which this is being compared to.
The spare, slick, stylized prose remains. The complex threads of plot: still there. Unforgettable characters with shifting allegiances: check. What's new? Well he may have left L.A. as a setting, but his themes of barely redeemable evil, ethical compromise for survival, and the razor thin separation between the low-life and higher levels of society still resonate...all I can say is MORE JAMES ELLROY, MORE!!!!