Perfidia by James Ellroy

I love James Ellroy’s writing…most of the time. With White Jazz, he went too far into incoherence, but LA Confidential is still on of my favorite books of all time. But one of the things I hate in genre fiction is the prequel (and not just because of George Lucas). With a prequel (especially in crime fiction), you start losing people who’s lives you can threaten. You know that Dudley Smith won’t be severely injured or killed because he’s still around in the future. You also know the future of the characters. The book starts being more of a spot-the-reference game than a story. So it was with these worries that I started reading James Ellroy’s latest LA novel Perfidia.

It’s December 6th 1941 and LA’s not ready for World War II, but it’s just hours away. The book takes place over the next 3 weeks and what happens when the bombs fall and the war starts. We’re re-introduced to Bill Paker, Dudley Smith, Kay Lake and Hideo Ashida. All of these characters appeared in the original LA Quartet along with dozens of others who also pop up in the book (3 pages of notes in the back listing where each character originally was from). We start with the murder of a Japanese family and follow it through and around the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the beginnings of Japanese internment.

Parker and Smith are friendly enemies who are both angling for promotions. They both drink too much, take too many drugs and use the people around them for their own ends. Kay Lake is already with Lee Blanchard, but Parker uses their history to get her into a communist group which he’d like to take down. Hideo Ashida might be the worlds greatest forensic analyst (at least in 1940s LA) and both Parker and Smith are trying to use him for their grand plans, when Ashida simply wants to solve the murder (and avoid being interred if possible).


The style and plot are pure Ellroy. It’s mainlined noir with Ellroy characters and situations. But there are too many sacrifices to the prequel. In some of the more annoying subplots, Dudley Smith is the biological father of Elizabeth Short(aka The Black Dahlia victim). And it’s done for a very, very small subplot near the end of the book. Also the mystery ends badly. After 650 pages of mystery, the bad guy tells a 5 page story of what he did, why he did it and why no one’s going to say anything. It’s the ultimate cop-out of a mystery ending.

Overall, it’s decent, but not spectacular Ellroy. Read it if you miss Ellroy writing and style, but don’t compare it to his great stories. It’s a disappointing start to the prequel trilogy, but I expect that I’ll still read the other books. Disappointing Ellroy is still better than most books out there. Mildly recommended.

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