Sunday, 26 October 2014

Perfidia by James Ellroy

Firstly let me say that I am a fan of James Ellroy, a real fan. While his LA Quartet is amazing, in my humble opinion it was with the Underworld USA Trilogy that he really set the standard. And that's partly the problem. I remember reading an interview with him where he said that he would never go back to writing straight crime, that having written a hidden history of America, his work would always be political. In Perfidia he tries to have his cake and eat it. It's a crime novel, harking back to the LA Quartet, with many of the quartets characters returning, but with a political side, in this case the internment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbour. I'm sorry to say that for me the combination just didn't work.

While Perfidia is a good novel, it felt like Ellroy was struggling with the weight of the Underworld USA Trilogy, like he was trying to match the achievement. The result is a flabby novel that just goes on far tool long. Unlike some of his earlier works the tale just didn't seem strong enough to sustain a 740 page novel.

And perhaps it was this that made me notice something that I have never noticed with Ellroy before: all the characters speak the same. Not just in dialogue but in internal monologue. As I say, I don't know if this is the case in his earlier novels or if they have just been so good that I didn't notice. But in Perfidia I just couldn't help it. Everyone speaks in this weird way. A typical line of dialogue, regardless of which character is speaking, will be: "Extrapolate please, Mr X, and don't hold back on extraneous prejudice." People just don't speak like this, except perhaps, in an episode of Star Trek. One character speaking/thinking like this might be acceptable, but all of them?

James Ellroy has certainly earned the right for one dud novel to be ignored, and this isn't a complete failure. Apparently this is the start of a new quartet and I will read the next novels, not least in the hope that he rediscovers his mojo.

I give this three stars.

Thanks to Net Galley for the review copy.