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Perfidia by James Ellroy

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It is December 6 1941. America stands at the brink of World War II. Last hopes for peace are shattered when Japanese squadrons bomb Pearl Harbor. Los Angeles has been a haven for loyal Japanese-Americans – but now, war fever and race hate grip the city and the Japanese internment begins.

The hellish murder of a Japanese family summons three men and one woman. William H. Parker is a captain on the Los Angeles Police. He’s superbly gifted, corrosively ambitious, liquored-up and consumed by dubious ideology. He is bitterly at odds with Sergeant Dudley Smith – Irish émigré, ex-IRA killer, fledgling war profiteer. Kay Lake is a 21-year-old dilettante looking for adventure. Hideo Ashida is a police chemist and the only Japanese on the L.A. cop payroll. The investigation throws them together and rips them apart. The crime becomes a political storm centre that brilliantly illuminates these four driven souls – comrades, rivals, lovers, history’s pawns.
Perfidia is a novel of astonishments. It is World War II as you have never seen it, and Los Angeles as James Ellroy has never written it before. Here, he gives us the party at the edge of the abyss and the precipice of America’s ascendance. Perfidia is that moment, spellbindingly captured. It beckons us to solve a great crime that, in its turn, explicates the crime of war itself. It is a great American novel.

My Review

“Regrettably, tonight’s news is all bad, for the Nazis and the Japs are on a ripsnorting rampage-and the war is rapidly heading our deserved and unwanted way.”

James Ellroy you master craftsman, you devil with details.
Dennis Lehane in his review said “Ellroy’s prose style had transformed into a staccato bebop” and i agree.
He can give it to you in rat a tat formation with short, sharp, shock, prose, and then he gives it to you elegant, with the narrative of one female protagonist in chapters that are from her journal on all that devil in the details.
Characters at odds with each other, race troubles, pearl harbour in the backdrop, its all happening in this Los Angeles tale.
His writing of L.A comes from something deep he mentioned in Wall Street Journal “The unsolved murder of my mother in 1958 probably led to my obsession with Los Angeles in the 1940s.”
He does his research, he works harder than any other writer, some may not be able to keep up with his way of teling a tale, but those can will be fully immersed in the world, the way Ellroy tells L.A.
Two memorable and likeable characters, first and foremost the only man of Japanese nationality employed by the Los Angeles Police Department, Hideo Ashida, and secondly, a prairie girl from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Kay Lake.
This one Kay Lake was told in this narrative:
“Your job is entrapment. You are to be a stool pigeon, a snitch, a rat and a fink. If those appellations offend you, chest la guerre. You are an informant. You will collect incriminating information and report it to me. You are a wayward young woman with a traumatically checkered criminal past. I am betting that the Red Queen will find you irresistible.”

Sample his short sharp prose here:
“Blanchard made the Churchill V sign. Meeks primped in the window reflection. Ashida walked into the drugstore.
He imprinted the floor plan. He memorised the witnesses’ faces. He gauged distances geometrically. He moved his eyes, details accrued, he smelled body doors imbued with adrenaline.
Two white-coat pharmacists. A suite-and-tie manager. Two old-lady customers. The fat pharmacist had a boil on his neck. The thin pharmacist had the shakes. One old lady was obese. Her vein pattern indicated arterial sclerosis.”

“Opium.
The world was his channel. His pallet was a lifeboat. The pipe was his guide.
He flicked across lovely postcards. He welcomed fellow traveler. Bette Davis joined him. They’re lovers in London. They’re starphangers in the tube.
Opium.
The pallet, the pipe. Ace Kwan’s basement. He’s here one moment, gone the next.”

Reviewed by Lou Pendergrast on 09 December 2014