Getting to Know R. J. Ellory

R. J. Ellory will be at BookPeople to speak & sign 'A Quiet Vendetta' on Fri, Jan 27, 7p.

I first came across R. J. Ellory’s work through A Quiet Belief In Angels. It was a dark, wrought, and ultimately beautiful novel following four decades of a man’s life that is entwined with a string of killings that started when he was a young man in Depression-era Georgia. It was like Pat Conroy writing with Thomas Harris lurking behind him. His feel for the region announced the promise of a great Southern crime writer.

I was thrilled to have a chance to be introduced to him a couple of months later at the Indianapolis Bouchercon. I was thrown when he didn’t have a Southern accent, in fact he didn’t even have an American one. It was British. It turned out Roger Jon Ellory became quite a name in his country writing crime fiction about ours.

We got to know one another at the hotel bar, talking about music, books, and Texas. I think that even if I sold books on a blanket outside Waterloo Records he would have wanted to have done a signing, just so he could see Austin. We agreed that he’d come to the store as soon as we could work it out. In return for being his future guide to the city, he sent me his back list of UK titles. It became apparent why Overlook Press brought him over here. He not only knew about the South, but many parts of America and its history, as well.

His approach is an oddly successful meeting of Dickens and Dashielle Hammett. He tends to have a sweeping quality more associated with historical or general fiction writers than most current crime writers. Like Dickens, the sweep never overwhelms the characters or the harshness of their stories. It’s where social and personal issues collide. He often deals with a shadow history hidden behind the pages of what we like to pronounce about ourselves as Americans, such as in A Simple Act Of Violence, which ended up on many 2011 best-of lists.

Many times he achieves a balance between intimate emotion and the down right hard boiled using a story within a story technique. Ghost Heart, a heart breaking noir that I can’t wait to come over here, deals with a New York bookstore owner learning about her father. The father’s life in the Jewish underworld could have been a great piece of hard boiled crime fiction on it’s own, but Ellory delivers suspense and a true sense of love about a daughter trying to know her father through a mysterious stranger who claims to be an old friend. However, this man could be targeting her for revenge. The book is a wonderful example of how Ellory uses a large, exotic canvas, continuing to move his focus to something more intimate: an exchange between two people, the realization of one.

It’s that positive human emotion that sets him apart from the pack. Roger has said his first priority as a writer is emotion. The emotion creeps up on you many times, since he often has cold and brutal beginnings, yet you find yourself consumed by it at the end. I can’t think of another author who takes you through such a dark world and leaves you with such believable hope.

A Quiet Vendetta, the latest to reach our shores, is quintessential Ellory. Ray Hartman, a mob prosecutor, is brought to New Orleans to meet with a Mr Perez. Perez is willing to reveal the location of where the kidnapped daughter of the Louisiana governor is, if Hartman listens to his life story. What a story it is, going from Cuba to all over the US in the last half century when Perez worked as an efficient enforcer for the Mafia. It includes Hoffa, Watergate, the Governor, and Hartman himself. Picture the Godfather saga told through the structure of The Usual Suspects.

RJ Ellory uses the genre and the United States to look at the emotional lives of his characters. It’s about how our actions make up the sum of us and how they can also redefine and redeem us. He’s one of the best American authors, no matter what his accent is.

Get to know Roger like I did, over a few beers or a glass of wine, as he discusses and signs A Quiet Vendetta on Friday January 27th at 7PM. Rumor is he might even pick up a guitar and play a few tunes for us while he’s here.

One thought on “Getting to Know R. J. Ellory

  1. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a coworker who has been doing a little research on this. And he in fact ordered me lunch because I found it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending the time to discuss this matter here on your web site.

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