James Ellroy is the rare author who can straddle mass popularity and critical acclaim. His novels of noir (most famously L.A. Confidential) are densely plotted, brutal and downright dark. He's even big in France.
But for his new opus, the self-described "demon dog of American crime literature" tackles a familiar subject in his utterly distinctive style. The Cold Six Thousand(Knopf), the second volume in a trilogy (the first was American Tabloid), spans the golden age of American scandal and conspiracy, from the JFK assassination and J. Edgar Hoover to Vietnam.
"This is the first time the whole of the 1960s has been fictionally and factionally weaved into a cohesive whole -- from the viewpoint of the bad guys enforcing a repressive agenda," Ellroy says in an e-mail interview where his answers come in the style of his writing: short and blunt. As for including many real-life characters in the narrative, he has no reservations. "I love the characters; I love upending readers' expectations by messing with their previously held perceptions."
Surprisingly, in light of L.A. Confidential's success, Ellroy claims little interest in the film versions of his work.
"Fuck movies!" he writes. "All I want is the option $. I never think about life-matic adaptations of my books otherwise." It's a curious statement given the fact that he took it upon himself to pen the screenplay for his novel White Jazz, set to begin filming this summer with Nick Nolte and John Cusack.
Ellroy's stop in Houston is just one in a staggering schedule of appearances to promote The Cold Six Thousand. When that's done, he'll hunker down to write the final book in the trilogy. But say, does the extroverted author have anything to say about his previous trips to Houston?
"Nothing complementary!" he snaps.
This terseness is an amazing show of verbal restraint given that Ellroy's current book runs 672 pages. Oh, and we think you mean "nothing complimentary." But we won't quibble over the English language. Right, dog?