MysteryPeople Double Feature: LA CONFIDENTIAL

All summer long, MysteryPeople has been partnering with the Authors and Auteurs book club for ‘Return to Normal,’ a film series highlighting 50s noir in fiction and cinema. Come by the store Sunday, August 6th, at 2 PM for a free screening of L.A. Confidential, followed by discussion of this essential work. 

  • Review by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

MysteryPeople’s summer collaboration with the Authors and Auteurs book club ends with a screening and discussion of one of the most ambitious crime film adaptations. L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy’s sprawling, dark, hyper-violent novel presents a challenge for any filmmaker to adapt – the work is over 500 pages long with three main protagonists, and several intricate plots. The result is more about capturing tone and theme than plot.

The novel concerns itself with three cops, milquetoast political climber Ed Exley, brutish Bud White, and celebrity hanger-on Jack Vincennes, in Fifties Los Angeles, chasing leads in their individual investigations (each tied to a mass shooting at a coffee shop) as well as their own demons, and serves as the third book in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. The heroin providing the McGuffin first appeared in the previous novel, The Big Nowhere.

L.A. Confidential uses the booming Los Angeles of the fifties, organized crime, and the picture business to look at America’s ‘bread and circuses’ culture; a triumvirate of distractions serving the powers that be as diversions from their own corruption. Ellroy also uses his setting to explore the dark side of male identity as each man is led through hell before he has a chance for his own dark redemption. All themes are portrayed vividly as Exley closes in on a serial murderer.

The story of the killer and many other parts of the novel did not make it on screen in the cinematic adaptation. Ed’s father, who figures prominently in the book, is dead in the film version (although one could argue he plays an important role in the film). Hanson and Hengeland quickly came to the decision that to get the story into a workable script, any plot that doesn’t concern all three main characters needed to be excised. The result is a much more streamlined tale that still remains intricate, creating more of a bond between the three cops, even though, as in the book, they don’t initially care for one another.

Hanson uses both cast and crew to bring out the book’s tone. All three actors, Guy Pearce (Ed Exley), Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), and Russell Crowe in his star making turn as Bud White all convey different forms of male swagger and posturing, with the self-loathing it hides peeking out. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti balances both the Hollywood glitz and the mundane sleaze it covers.

L.A. Confidential shows you don’t have to be true to every plot point of a book to truly capture it. The film may not be able to delve as deep as the novel, yet it manages to hold onto the book’s dark themes. Both have found a way to be the first great epic noirs of their medium.

You can find copies of LA Confidential on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. Come by this Sunday, August 6th, at 2 PM for a screening and discussion of LA Confidential, presented by MysteryPeople and the Authors and Auteurs Book Club. The screening is free and open to the public and takes place on BookPeople’s third floor. 

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Genre Benders: True Crime by Fiction Writers

  • Post by Molly Odintz

True crime books may be a hop and a step away from their mystery and thriller cousins, but every once in a while, just as readers jump from fact to fiction, a crime writer will step across the bounds from fiction to non-fiction. The origins of detective fiction lie in the lurid pulp of yellow journalism, and crime fiction based on fact remains perennially popular. Here are five non-fiction crime reads by authors who started off writing fiction. The picks below range from recent releases to true crime classics.


9781419715853LAPD ’53 by James Ellroy

Ellroy’s stunning collaboration with the Los Angeles Police Museum showcases the weird, wild and less-than-wonderful world of LA in 1953. The collection highlights a society marked by the dissonance and blurred lines between appearance and reality,  cops and criminals, vagabonds and victims,  and starlets and sociopaths. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this slim volume is a perfect shortcut to enjoying the work of America’s most violent and verbose writer (although Don Winslow and Greg Isles, with their recent work, have both been racking up a competitively high body count and even higher page count). You can find copies of LAPD ’53 on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.  

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The Hard Word Book Club To Discuss L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, by James Ellroy

laconfidential

This January’s Hard Word Book Club discussion will cover the one crime novel that made BookPeople’s top 100 list, James Ellroy’s L.A. Confidential. The third book in his L.A. Quartet, it stands by itself as a noir masterpiece. Those only familiar with the movie have a lot to learn about the rest of the story.

The novel tracks three compromised men in the LAPD during the fifties, brought together through a police brutality scandal, a bloody massacre at a coffee shop, and a serial killer on the prowl. When condensing the story for film, the main plot was removed and many of the characters and relationships were removed, as well as the book’s ending, muting its themes on male identity and brutality. Ellroy took the idea of the hard boiled novel and made it epic.


We will be discussing L.A. Confidential on Wednesday, January 20th, at 7PM on our third floor. The book is 10% off to those who attend. It’s close to five hundred pages so get cracking.

For February we will be discussing Trouble In The Heartland, a collection of short crime fiction inspired by Bruce Springsteen songs, with editor Joe Clifford calling in.

If you like James Ellroy…

As we close out the year, it’s time to take some time to give the fans of some of our favorite authors a few ideas about what to read next. This year, we start with James Ellroy, who stunned us all with his latest release, Perfidia. If you love Ellroy, here are some other books that MysteryPeople guarantees you’ll love sinking your teeth into.

the empty glassThe Empty Glass by J.I. Baker

A look at Marilyn Monroe’s death from the perspective of a county coroner certain of murder. One of the best uses of character point of view. Baker gives us a Hollywood at a period when its classic glamour was beginning to crack. An atmospheric, stylish, and downward spiral.

 

song is youThe Song Is You by Megan Abbott

Abbott uses the unsolved mystery of missing starlet Jean Spangler for a look at the underside of Fifties Hollywood and the treatment of women. Dark, disturbing, and beautiful.

 

 

ratlinesRatlines by Stuart Neville

As his country prepares for a visit from President Kennedy, an Irish investigator is asked to clear up the murder of a German immigrant as quickly as possible. His inquiry takes him down a violent rabbit hole of war criminals, the Mossad, money, politics, and the ratlines that helped Nazis find asylum in Ireland.

MysteryPeople Review: PERFIDIA, by James Ellroy

perfidia image

James Ellroy‘s Perfidia is a monster of a book, in scope, size, and ambition. Perfidia takes place in LA during America’s first month in World War II. The book runs close to seven hundred pages, with at least four lead characters and what feels like hundreds of supporting ones. Most of them are corrupt or are about to be. Ellroy’s version of “The Greatest Generation” is blinded by ambition, fear, xenophobia, greed, or just the pure thrill of putting the hurt to someone. if you are up for a plunge into the ink-black heart of history and humanity, this book is for you.

Ellroy’s central character, Japanese-American Hideo Ashida, works as a forensics specialist in the LAPD. He is assigned to a murder case involving a Japanese family the day before Pearl harbor is attacked. The investigation puts him in the middle of an inter-department war between soon-to-be Chief Parker and Dudley Smith, the gangster-cop who served as a villain in Ellroy’s LA Quartet. The case also entwines in a scheme involving the internment of Japanese Americans.

The book is is packed with characters from both Ellroy’s LA Quartet and Underworld USA Trilogy. Tarnished cops Lee Blanchard and Buzz Meeks work in Dudley’s squad and FBI Agent Ward Little also comes in at one point. Kay Lake, an important character in The Black Dahlia, has a prominent role here acting as spy for Parker against some feared but mainly harmless leftists. Ellroy emphasizes noir’s rich theme of fate through the use of familiar characters and historical figures. .

What Ellroy captures so well is the collective mindset of an embattled USA. Mass emotion feeds into riot and murder. The thin line between patriotism and rage is vividly demonstrated when the character of Kay tries to enlist and a group of men attack her for being a leftist and “red”. We see how greedy and unscrupulous men are given allowance to move against the constitution and plain decency. As one character says, “There is no proportion. Pearl Harbor took care of that.”

While taking his characters further into their past, Ellroy creates a novel for perfect for our present. With it’s political hysteria, a right wing running rampant, a left that only preens and poses, and cops on overkill it is difficult not to relate in this post 9-11 and Ferguson world. Ellroy may be holding a dark mirror in our collective faces, but it is hard not to see the truth in it.


 

You can find copies of James Ellroy’s Perfidia on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Double Feature: THE LONG GOODBYE

This Wednesday, July 23, at 6 pm, we will be screening Robert Altman‘s film adaption of Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye as part of our double feature film series. At each double feature event, we screen a film version of a roman noir we know and love. Each screening is free and open to the public, and takes places on BookPeople’s third floor.

Ask any Raymond Chandler aficionado about Chandler’s best book and most will say The Long Goodbye. Rich in Southern California detail and somber meditations on friendship, it is the the closest we get to understanding his private detective, Phillip Marlowe. Although The Long Goodbye, as a novel, has achieved near-universal acclaim, Robert Altman’s film version has drawn controversy for its unconventional interpretation.

While Playback is technically the last book in the series, The Long Goodbye feels like Chandler’s true farewell to the character. In The Long Goodbye, Chandler uses the classic noir structure of two seemingly unrelated cases that soon become intertwined. One case deals with his friend, Terry Lennox, whose wife is found dead after Marlowe gives him a lift to Mexico. Soon Terry is also assumed dead, but Marlowe thinks the truth is otherwise. As he tries to figure out Terry’s whereabouts, he takes on the job of hunting down a drunken novelist, Roger Wade, to whom he ends up acting as part-time nursemaid.

With the Lennox mystery, Chandler looks at Marlowe deeper than ever before. This is the first time Marlowe is truly personally involved in a case. We watch him try to balance his friendship with Terry and his famous personal code. We also get  a stronger sense of his loneliness, making The Long Goodbye one of the most existential private eye novels out there.

What makes the book even more personal is Marlowe’s relationship with Wade. Wade and Marlowe share a similar history, especially when it comes to his drinking and marriage. Even when he’s reading one of Wade’s books, Marlowe criticizes him for overusing similes, the simile being something he was known (and often parodied) for. It was as if he was using his detective to investigate himself.

“It’s certainly his most character-driven book, and a lot more ambitious than the other Marlowe novels,” said crime novelist Wallace Stroby when I asked him about the book and movie.  “And Terry Lennox is a unique creation. I can’t think of any other crime novel beforehand, except maybe for Dashiell Hammett‘s The Glass Key, in which male friendship is so central to the plot. It’s probably Chandler’s most autobiographical novel as well. It deals pretty straightforwardly with alcoholism. It’s also been hugely influential on the genre. James Crumley‘s The Last Good Kiss is in many ways his take on The Long Goodbye.”

In Altman’s film version, Marlowe is at a distance. Shot in his famed long takes in large frame with a flashing technique he developed with cinematographer Vilmos Zigmund, the movie has a hazy feel about it. Altman said he approached the material as “Rip Van Marlowe”, with the detective coming out of a twenty year sleep that he started right after World War II and then woke up post Vietnam. This time lapse matches the twenty years difference from the release of the book to the premiere of the film. Gould plays him as if he’s sleepwalking through the cases, getting sharper as he figures out he’s getting played, ending in a confrontation far different from the book.

The movie has become a form of debate among Chandler fans. Some believe the film portrays Marlowe in way respectful to the original, while others feel that the film trashes the novel completely.  Some place Altman’s cynical depiction of L. A. as in keeping with the Chandler tradition. Some, like myself, have a different reaction each time we see it.

“It’s a love or hate proposition,” says Stroby. “I love it. But I think you have to look at it more as a Robert Altman movie than a Raymond Chandler adaptation. It’s ridiculously entertaining, and very much of its time, but it has some real noir cred, too. It was written by Leigh Brackett and has a great late-career performance by Sterling Hayden (as Wade). In fact, the whole ensemble cast is terrific. I’d much rather the filmmakers took the approach they did, than to just make another Marlowe pastiche set in the ’40s. I think it’s right up there with the best films based on Chandler’s work.”

The major concept that both film and novel share is the idea of Marlowe in changing times. Chandler starts The Long Goodbye in the ’40s, when he meets Terry Lennox, then gets the plot going in the ’50s. Marlowe feels time slipping away and his values slipping with it. With “Rip Van Marlowe” it’s already gone when he wakes up. For both PIs, time is the most dangerous and deceptive femme fatale.

 

DOUBLE FEATURE STATS FOR THE LONG GOODBYE

Adherence To Book (Scale Of 1-5): 2 (The ending is very un-Marlowe)

Adherence To Quality Of Book: 3 (Many will argue I’m being either too kind or unkind)

Suggested Viewing: Marlowe, Chinatown, Devil In A Blue Dress (Which you can see at our next Double Feature Wednesday on August 6th) Suggested Reading- Moving Target by Ross McDonald, Brown’s Requiem by James Ellroy, Concrete River by John Shannon

And for the record: The Long Goodbye is not Wallace Stroby’s favorite Chandler novel. “‘That would be Farewell, My Lovely, for its characters, mood and plot that – unlike the other Marlowes – is actually fairly simple.”

Come join us Wednesday, July 23, for a free screening of Robert Altman’s film interpretation of The Long Goodbye. It’s sure to spark a great discussion! As always, events are free and open to the public. Come join us at 6pm on the third floor.

Top 6 Books To Look Forward to In 2014

2014 is looking like a great year for crime fiction fans. It’s so good that while I was making a top 5 list of books I’m looking forward to, I realized I had to make it 6.

 

1. Hollow Girl by Reed Farrel Coleman

This will be a bittersweet read, since it will be the last book featuring my favorite contemporary private eye, Moe Prager. Moe is one of the most fully realized characters out there and this series contains some of the most poignant books I’ve ever read. I may be wiping tears as I turn pages. On Sale 5/18/14. Pre-order here.

 

2. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

As much as I love Hilary’s Lily Moore series, this novel of blackmail, kidnapping, and bad relationships sounds like the kind of book I’ve been waiting for her to write. Leaning her towards darker short fiction, this could be the Gone Girl of 2014. On Sale 4/15/14. Pre-order here.

 

james ellroy3. Perfidia by James Ellroy

Ellroy goes back to The City Of Angels to revisit some of the characters from his LA Quartet in their earlier days. This could be a return to the sprawling, stylish, down and dirty Ellroy we all got hooked on. On Sale 9/9/14. Pre-order here. 

 

 

4. The Poor Boy’s Game by Dennis Tafoya

I’ve been waiting years for Dennis Tafoya to come out with a new book – read Dope Thief to know why. This tale of an ex-US Marshall protecting her sister and step mother from her father on the streets of Philadelphia should have all the gritty heart I’ve come to expect from him and be well worth the wait. On Sale 4/29/14. Pre-order here.

 

5. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McGinty

The final installment of The Troubles Trilogy featuring Sean Duffy, a Catholic cop in Thatcher-era Belfast. My only hope is that McGinty will find a way to continue with this complex character and his biting sense of humor. On Sale 3/4/14. Pre-order here. 

 

6. The Fever by Megan Abbott

A new book by Megan Abbott. That’s all that needs to be said. On Sale 6/17/14. Pre-order here.