Monday, December 7, 2009

Book #15

The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy does not quite attain the heights of its predecessor American Tabloid but it comes pretty close. This is a cannot-put-it-down; of reading experience. The plot picks up right after the breathless final seconds of Tabloid; it's Dallas - November 22, 1963. Once again Ellroy uses a triple character format to weave his taut, complex, Shakespearean tale and it works brilliantly. The narrators are connected and know each other but only appear together as a triumvirate at one, brilliantly searing point in the novel. This scene occurs at the jaw-dropping midpoint of the book and illustrates Ellory's achievement in his Underworld USA trilogy. Two of the characters, "Big" Pete Bondurant and Wayne Tedrow Jr. are hunting down one of their Vietnam Cadre companions who is responsible for a civil rights bombing. The other character Ward Littell, former Fed turned Mob lawyer and clandestine Civil Rights activist shows up at the last possible second, surprising his two allies. What happens in that hotel room with the three men sends the rest of the novel spinning towards its harrowing climax - and their ultimate fates. The fact all three characters converge at all and converge only once in the entire novel serves to separate the narrative theme and the links - and separations - of the main characters.
Plotwise, Ellroy bumps and slides through the dirt of the sixties, tying together Fed, Mob, CIA and Vegas conspiracies into a violent ride through subterranean American history. He concludes with the assassinations of RFK and Martin Luther King, as well as Howard Hughes takeover of Las Vegas. Vietnam, and particularly its heroin trade, loom over all.
The twists are shocking and delivered like a machine gun blast to the English language. This is a dark, hard book that stands not only as a linguistic achievement but also as the definitive "fictional" take on American history through its most turbulent times.

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