Perfidia

by James Ellroy

Paper Book, 2014

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2014.

Description

Follows a post-Pearl Harbor murder of a Japanese family that entangles a brilliant Japanese-American forensic chemist, an adventurous woman, a future police chief and an arch villain.

User reviews

LibraryThing member RickHarsch
Perfidia by James Ellroy (spoilers within)

I do not kill innocent bystanders because it’s a mitzvah not to and because I adhere to the Ten Commandments except when it is bad for business.
Mickey Cohen in L.A. Confidential

That’s James Ellroy in his prime, slipping with ease into flamboyant gangster talk. In the same book, you get his scattergun police reports, hard-boiled dialogue with convincing variations such as the Irish brogue of the Dudster, and the neon lavender prose of Hush Hush magazine, not to mention the occasional straight news story. Known for his darkness—no one is good in Ellroy’s novels and gets away with it—Ellroy should also be known for his polyphonic technique, not to mention his astonishing intellectual range, delivered like .38 rounds in virtually every scene, holes in the wall that leave a code deciphered: this man is an extremely widely read genius. Ellroy is also as knowledgeable about his environment, in all aspects, as any crime writer, and his books would fit well in sociology classes, particularly those intent on investigating the Eisenhower years to reveal the state of the union as it really was. Mentioning Eisenhower is apropos, for the dark fraud of his highway program is best studied through L.A., and Ellroy is all over it. He also, in his relentless portrayal of pragmatism run amok in the fight to get rich, and the fight against crime, brilliantly displays the corruption of the American soul itself—we forget that we really oughtn’t love the Mickster—he’s a cold-blooded killer—but so are his brothers in arms, the L.A. police. He also unflinchingly portrays truths about darktown L.A. that resonate as much today and are as relevant as ever. You want to know about Ferguson? Read Ellroy. You want to know why Chicago is so fucked up? Read Ellroy.
Ellroy’s L.A. tetralogy: The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz, is also remarkable for the way his books get better sequentially. The Black Dahlia is on a par with the best crime books written today (and introduces Ellroy’s side themes, particular the intersection of sex and brutality), The Big Nowhere takes a leap into full Ellroy as we know him mode, fat books with plots all the more feasible for the social realism of their play, and with character upon character who could carry their own books. His books are dense. After the quartet, Ellroy took a few of his characters and zoomed off into the Kennedy assassination and a broader Americana, and the books got fatter, the prose more scattergun, the truths every bit as scorching. Particularly admirable is his ability to use enormous personae in his scenes. Hoover, Kennedy, Howard Hughes—none of which escape his keen indictment of the corrupt nexus of foreign policy and domestic politics.
Now he’s decided to take his characters and his attention back in time, delivering Perfidia, the first of a projected trilogy that precedes the Black Dahlia. The book opens on the cusp of war, convincingly portraying a cop-slummed L.A. on the brink of being attacked at Pearl Harbor. The plot hinges on the slaughter of a Japanese family on the day before the attack, and rides the theme via the one Japanese cop on the payroll, a labman extraordinaire. Naturally, the book is worth the read, if only for Ellroy’s examination of the treatment of the Japanese during the war. If you haven’t read a history on the internment, you’ve read nothing as dark and real as Ellroy’s treatment. He provides convincing details of the machinations involved, of the breadth of the conspiracy. He also provides a rather typical fat Ellroy crime book, that, unfortunately, in my view, uses a number of characters from previous books, and for the most part to ill effect. If you love Ellroy, you will certainly want to read about a younger Dudley Smith, but you will not want to learn that the victim in the Black Dahlia is his illegitimate daughter. What’s the need? (She’s Ellroy’s mother, isn’t she?) Worst of all, Kay Lake, from L.A. Confidential is not only included, she is deeply embedded in the plot, given a diary and a fleshed out personality and story that make little sense. There is no need for her to bite the nose off a bull-dyke in a jail cell to titillate us Ellroy fans. Nor, in fact, does that scene make any sense. Ellroy writes a great deal about the Reds and the powers coming down on them, but here he is an Ellroy I have never met before, a boring Ellroy, and his cynicism, as he concentrates on a meaningless cell of actual reds doesn’t jibe with the corrupt L.A. of the Hollywood Ten. Perhaps the problem is personal. We know from his intense memoir about his murdered mother that he has issues with woman and murder, and I suspect he fell in love with Kay Lake, who stands out in his ouvre as the one hero (now at least)—on occasion there is redemption available for, say, her lover Bud White in L.A. Confidential, but it’s redemption in service of plot resolution and it comes with grotesque debilitation. Kay Lake, I suspect, is the only woman Ellroy the writer could love, a woman elusive, unpredictable and involved deeply in devious and dark events—I think it’s Ellroy biting the nose off the rapist prison matron more than it’s Kay Lake. Kay Lake in that spot doesn’t work. Ellroy does.
I’m going to leave a lot out and end this here. The book deserves to be read because Ellroy has earned your loyalty, and he pays it back by remaining very much Ellroy, if a hair skewed as a novelist, and pays it back double for his reportage of the intricacies of the internment of the Japanese. And you didn’t hear it here first, for Ellroy is lingering always in the minds of his readers, on the record, way way off the QT, and anything but hush hush.
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LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I am in my early fifties now so I have to expect I will probably be dead in about twenty years. That isn't a problem but it does mean that I simply don't have time to waste on books that are deliberately impenetrable.

I know from previous experience that James Ellroy can produce some engrossing stories with elaborate plots that clearly rest upon extensive historical research. Sadly, however, his recent books seems to have been increasingly labyrinthine to the extent that I simply lack the strength of spirit to give a toss.

I'm sure that a lot of people will find his latest offering marvellous and will rave about his consummate attention to detail and his limitless facility to evoke a time and place. It just didn't work with me - I just found it too relentless a paean to squalor, rage and despair, and I experience enough of all that each day at work.
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LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
This is my first James Ellroy. I was familiar with the movie versions(The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential) of 2 of his books and this book had gotten good reviews. The book is 700 pages and like all novels that long, it can use editing, but this is a book worth reading to introduce you to this author. The book has many characters from his previous books but I did not find this a problem. The plot was intricate and because there were so many characters it was sometimes too hard to follow. However, the book did a great job of giving a historical perspective on L.A. when Pearl Harbor happened. Ellroy mixes fictional are real characters together(Bette Davis, Jack Kennedy) and lets you see the racism, corruption, and bigotry that was rampant. You get a good insight into our treatment of the Japanese after the attack and the historical Japanese/Chinese animosity. The backdrop for the book is the murder of a Japanese family in L.A. the day before Pearl Harbor. It all goes from there. If you like crime novels and distinctive style, then I recommend
this book. It is not easy, but it is worth the ride. I do intend to go back and read some of Ellroy's earlier works and view those movies again.
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LibraryThing member peterveen
The books get longer as the sentences get shorter. Ellroy's staccato style is all his own and all his books seems to be written at a fever pitch. If you can handle that and you don't get out o f breath, the book is another stark indictment of acorrupt America (it can not be as bad as that, can it) set against the background of the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor. The cast of characters ranging from Bette Davis to The Dudster, a police spin in Ellroy's tightly woven web, build up to an intricate mosaic of mutual blackmail, violence and sex. It is certainly not for the weak-hearted. All in all a virtuoso performance demanding concentrated reading with regular (short) breaks.… (more)
LibraryThing member hhornblower
A very enjoyable book. It's Ellroy being Ellroy, a fun, exciting story but I fear he's becoming a caricature of himself. The same hard-boiled language, sex and drugs. Nothing really new with this one.
LibraryThing member mojomomma
I read the whole book, but I hated it. This book is written in 1940-gangster language, so I didn't understand most of the verbs and quite a few of the nouns. There are tons of characters to keep track of and they all have nicknames. Wish I'd know that there was a list of characters in the BACK of the book. Who puts the list of characters in the back? Then we have the plot, which looked like a murder mystery of a Japanese family that happened on the eve of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but this was just part of the background for most of the book which featured a police department rife with corruption and way worse criminals than anyone walking around without a badge. Hideo Ashida, the Japanese police chemist, was an interesting character, but everyone else just made me sick and destroyed my faith in human nature. I'll not be reading the sequels!… (more)
LibraryThing member VashonJim
Gave it three stars because it has an entertaining story line, revolving around a murder in Los Angeles in December 1941. The only problem is that the writing is so to difficult to slog through that it's barely worth the effort. Read three quarters of it and gave up.
LibraryThing member johnwbeha
Apparently Dennis Lehane described Ellroy's style as "staccato bebop". That seems to me a good description of what the writer's style has evolved into by this book. I loved the first LA Quartet, found the next series of books hard going, and now don't think I will be delving further into the second LA Quqrtet. This book was really hard work. It blends "possible" fact with Ellroy's earlier characters and takes us back in time to Pearl Harbour and its immediate aftermath in LA. But the story is very difficult to follow, bathed as it is in alcohol, drugs and corruption. Very few of the characters evoke any empathy and I found the writing very difficult.… (more)
LibraryThing member pierthinker
James Ellroy's Los Angeles books (The 1st LA Quartet, the Underworld USA Trilogy and the 2nd LA Quartet of which Perfidia is the first volume) are a dystopian science fiction drama in reverse. Instead of the future, Ellroy paints a dystopian vision of society on the past. Specifically, the past of Los Angeles from the bombing of Pearl Harbour in December 1941 through to 1972, when Ellroy believes that all history ended with the Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy assassinations. Fictional characters are interwoven with real life events and people surrounding key points or milestones in Ellroy's slicing of the putrid underbelly of American life.

Perfidia is set in Los Angeles in December 1941 immediately before and after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and centres on the hysteria surrounding the motives of the large and long time settled Japanese community in California. In those early days of war all Japanese were seen as Fifth Column saboteurs.

As always, Ellroy serves up a vast array of characters in an intricate plot presented in a mix of 1st and 3rd person narratives and vicious rapid-fire jump cuts. Everyone is at the bottom of the barrel, morals wise - alcoholic, junkie, murderer, corrupt or just plain nasty - and that is the good guys.

Ellroy writes with a passion tied to a iron control of his story at a pace that is hard to kick. If you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like.
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LibraryThing member bekkil1977
The amazing James Ellroy is back with a new L.A. Quartet. "Perfidia" was hard core, gritty, and on point. It's set in L.A. in December of 1941. A few hours before Pearl Harbor, a Japanese family is murdered. LAPD wants the case wrapped up and wrapped up quick, they don't care is the real killer is brought to justice, so long as someone is so they can get back to business as usual. Many of his characters from other books make appearances, like Dudley Smith, Kay Lake, Claire DeHaven, and Bucky Bleichert. The ending knocked me out, as his endings always do.… (more)
LibraryThing member Opinionated
So, a prequel. These are always difficult, and in many way unnecessary. We've all formed our image of Dudley Smith and co; do we really need to understand the younger him? Plus it must be extremely hard work making the earlier, younger versions of characters fit with the actions of their later, more mature selves

So this is what we have; having got through to 1972 in "Blood's a Rover" and most of his characters having come to a definitive stop, Mr Ellroy takes to Los Angeles at the outbreak of World War II and the month between Pearl Harbour and the end of 1941. The meta plot - about the internment and disgraceful treatment of Japanese citizens, the murder of a Japanese family and their involvement in a fifth column, and the general corruptness of the LA Police force, is, as usual for Ellroy, fast paced, tightly plotted, garish and violent and with evocative dialogue. So far, so satisfactory.

What worked less well for me is the reintroduction of characters I dimly remember from past Ellroy books. I mean its at least 15 years since I read the LA Quartet. Kay Lake? Who was she again? The Red Queen - ah yes I remember her. Dudley Smith, of course who could forget. Liz Short, well we all know what happened to her. Ace Kwan - sounds vaguely familiar. I just wondered whether all this was necessary; I mean surely there were more than 6 policemen in LA in the 1940s? I understand how tempting it would be to bring back a character as rich as Dudley Smith, but do we need to bring back all the more minor characters as well?

The second point is that Ellroy has always fictionalised real people and I have no problems when they are well known . Bette Davis features prominently in this; Jack Kennedy has a bit part. It all adds to the atmosphere. I am not quite so certain that I approve of less well known, but equally real, people being associated with actions that, were they alive, they could sue for libel and undoubtedly win. Was the B movie actress Ellen Drew really a part time prostitute? Was ex Police chief Clancy Horrall that corrupt? A real policeman is associated with murder, underage sex and a whole range of other crimes. Really?

Unless of course these are all known truths and I am simply not familiar enough with LA lore to know it. And I realise Ellroy has spent inordinate time in police archives. But otherwise it seems just unnecessary and a bit cheap

So I enjoyed it, but didn't find it quite as compelling as some of his other work. Maybe we are just all a bit too familiar now with the Ellroy modus and he's lost his ability to startle and shock
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