American Tabloid by James Ellroy represents a departure from the "master of noir"; instead of investigating dark and twisty crimes in LA, he dives headfirst into the web of conspiracy surrounding the Kennedy Presidency. Some books are hard to put down. Some books are page turners. When I bought this one, the guy behind the counter told me to get ready to lose a week. I didn't lose one week - I lost a week and half.
This book explodes and sprawls like the literary answer to an incendiary grenade. It consumes the reader in the underworld beneath American History as it examines the "truth" of complex times. Ellroy contends that America was never innocent and JFK was killed at the perfect time to ensure martyrdom - just before all his discretions came to light.
The three central characters are conflicted, deep and perfect. They rise and fall along a Shakespearean arc with such real life figures as (among others): Howard "Dracula" Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover, RFK, Santo Trafficante, Jack Ruby, and Jimmy Hoffa. These men, Pete Bondurant (a brutal, mob-connected, Cuba entwinned, pimp, former policeman); Kemper Boyd (an FBI agent turned CIA asset bent on Castro's assassination) and Ward Littell (a disgraced drunk turned mob lawyer), manipulate the years 1957 - 1963. We see them at their lowest and at their highest and the plot swirls them in new directions with a single, perfectly carved sentence. Ellroy's style is machine gun bursts of beauty and deplorable violence.
This book surges like a tidal wive toward the brutal axis the reader knows is coming: November 22, 1963. This may just be the best book for understanding not only the conspiracy surrounding Kennedy's death but also the mob men who played a role in his rise and (possibly in his) demise.
Better yet? There are two more books following American Tabloid which complete Ellroy's Underworld USA trilogy. So when he leaves you twisting, off-balance and in complete awe on Novemeber 22, 1963, you can be assured that yes, there is more.