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White Jazz by James Ellroy
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White Jazz (1992)

by James Ellroy

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: L.A. Quartet (4)

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I'd be tough to call the seedy, lurid dime novels that probably influenced James Ellroy great literature, and, honestly, I think I'd also be pretty tough to call the stuff he produces great literature, too, though some people have certainly tried. As with most Ellroy books, everything's a bit too intense to be taken altogether seriously, which gives this stuff a sort of cartoonish feel. In Ellroy's literary universe, evil characters are unimaginably twisted rather than merely venal, rogue cops are one-man crime waves with police badges rather than guys in blue who overstep the law, and hot dames are all-out sexpots rather than just pretty women. This stuff is evolved trash, but, to Ellroy's credit, it can also be really fun evolved trash.

Actually, Ellroy gets a bit of credit for keeping keeping things relatively simple in "White Jazz" and for tamping down some of his more extreme noirish tendencies. The police side of thing is more-or-less limited to the misadventures of a single detective, and the plot's relative economy makes the plot a bit more believable -- not to mention easier to follow -- than most of the other novels that make up the author's "L.A. Quartet." His prose's more reined-in, too, and you can see him developing a sparer, more staccato narrative voice that makes his writing in "The Black Dahlia" seem positively florid. Even so, this doesn't mean that you can't call "White Jazz" minimalist in any sense of the word: the book's too long, and readers who refuse to suspend their disbelief are unlikely to finish it. Still, Ellroy's talent for establishing historical setting -- and for writing snappy, cheerfully profane period dialogue -- is sharp as ever; I suspect he'd be a pretty good historian, or at least a good historical novelist, if he ever wanted to give his neo-noir gig a rest. Anyway, after three or four Ellroy novels, I think I'm ready to take a break from him. It's back to the "literary fiction" section for me. I can always re-watch "The Big Sleep" if I feel the need for a dose of seedy, dangerous mid-century L.A. ( )
  TheAmpersand | Dec 31, 2012 |
I hated this book, and it was a real struggle to get through on many levels, including an annoying prose style, density of prose, crazy meandering plot, and a surfeit of characters. And none of these are even the book's greatest flaw. However, there is enough of a compelling sense of style, history, place and momentum that I thought the book balanced out to a 3 rather than a zero.

It's not that I don't like midcentury American crime, even if it has to be set in ignoble LA. I don't particularly care for all the layers of police procedure, but even that can easily be overlooked. BUT I cannot forgive an author making me wade through 350 pages and never presenting any evidence of humanity on the part of his hero.

In this case, every single character is beyond redemption. The world would be a better place if they were all dead. There is no humanity at all, and every time you think you see a glimpse, events serve to stomp it out with a vengeance. Two buddies, JC and Herrick, come to LA to make their fortunes? Have them screw each other's wives! Give a weak man a chance to protect his sister? Turn it into an incestuos peep show! Displaced refugees? Show only their ugly underbelly! A love story amid the ruin? Make it completely unmotivated and unlikely, so as to render it meaningless. And finally: give Dave Klein a chance to confess and reptent, and spend the last lines of the book reminding us he's only concerned about squaring up with the world, not God or his own sense of morality.

The best thing I can guess about Ellroy, who I have not read before, is that it does not appear that he hates women as much as he does everyone else. They alone escape - numb and stupid, but innocent.

Endless, horrible, over-the-top, disgustingly enthusiastic racism: considering he wrote this book in '01, Ellroy is either a genius at insisting on accuracy, or he just enjoys it all a little too much. It reads like the latter. And please don't say "he busts on everyone - blacks, jews, etc." as though it were an excuse.

The tight, staccato prose *might* be palatable for a short story. Of under five thousand words. At such length, it's giving me a headache even thinking about it.

People say JE has written better books. Not sure I'll be up for finding out myself for a while. ( )
1 vote swl | Sep 6, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (12 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Ellroyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Oliva, CarloTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Het vervolg op L.A. Confidential Strikt Vertrouwelijk.

Verloedering, corruptie en verloren onschuld: het helse Amerika van James Ellroy.
In the end I possess my birthplace and am possessed by its language.
--Ross MacDonald
Dedication
Voor Helen Node
To Helen Node
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All I have is the will to remember.
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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
Ten slotte is mijn geboorteplaats mijn bezit geworden en word ik bezeten door haar taal. (Rossn MacDonald)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375727361, Paperback)

Los Angeles, 1958. Killings, beatings, bribes, shakedowns--it's standard procedure for Lieutenant Dave Klein, LAPD. He's a slumlord, a bagman, an enforcer--a power in his own small corner of hell. Then the Feds announce a full-out investigation into local police corruption, and everything goes haywire.

Klein's been hung out as bait, "a bad cop to draw the heat," and the heat's coming from all sides: from local politicians, from LAPD brass, from racketeers and drug kingpins--all of them hell-bent on keeping their own secrets hidden. For Klein, "forty-two and going on dead," it's dues time.

Klein tells his own story--his voice clipped, sharp, often as brutal as the events he's describing--taking us with him on a journey through a world shaped by monstrous ambition, avarice, and perversion. It's a world he created, but now he'll do anything to get out of it alive.

Fierce, riveting, and honed to a razor edge, White Jazz is crime fiction at its most shattering.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:24:23 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Detective and mystery stories. This story describes the life of Lieutenant Dave Klein who is a lawyer, but also something else. Klein stands at the centre of a complex web of plots where violence and death will intersect. Los Angeles, 1958: a city on the make. A boom town at the edge of a new era ripe for plunder. Lieutenant Dave Klein: in turn a lawyer, bagman, slum landlord, mob killer. Klein stands at the centre of a complex web of plots where violence and death will intersect.… (more)

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