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  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 5:00 pm on 2019/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: allison montclair, james ellroy, jorge zepeda patterson, , , , the black jersey: a novel, the book supremacy, the right sort of man, the storm, , whiskers in the dark   

    June’s Best New Mysteries 


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    Happy June, gumshoes! This month is brimming over with clever, page-turning mysteries that take us from the Tour de France to the National Beagle Club. Throw a few in your carry-on bag, your beach tote, or your work briefcase (we won’t tell) and get sleuthing.

    The Storm, by James Ellroy
    What do a corrupt cop, a master of the crime lab, a fascist member of the LAPD, and a war-profiteer have in common? They’re all caught up in the investigation of a dead body that’s turned up in L.A. after a series of rainstorms in January of 1942. The Storm is filled with complex, nuanced characters who encounter (or encourage) greed, corruption, and mayhem around every turn. Nobody writes L.A. noir like James Ellroy—don’t miss the searing, sequel to his 2014 tour-de-force, Perfidia, and the second volume of his Second L.A. Quartet.

    Whiskers in the Dark, by Rita Mae Brown
    Fans of Rita Mae Brown’s charming Mrs. Murphy mystery series, co-written of course with the feline detective virtuoso Sneaky Pie Brown, will enjoy the 28th installment, Whiskers in the Dark, which features (in no particular order): a beagle competition, the unearthing of an ancient skeleton clad in pearls, and the violent death on the hunting trails of the National Beagle Club of a retired foreign services officer who was merely cleaning up some trees. Mary Minor “Harry” Harristeen is accompanied as always in her investigations by her feline sleuths Mrs. Murphy and Pewter, along with adorable corgi Tee Tucker.

    The Black Jersey: A Novel, by Jorge Zepeda Patterson
    This engaging mystery thrusts readers into the very pinnacle of the high-stakes, fast-paced world of competitive cycling: the Tour de France. Professional cyclist Marc Moreau’s team is top notch, and his best friend, who leads it, appears to have a shot at winning the Tour. But early on in the competition, worrisome accidents begin to pile up. First they’re smaller incidents: a broken ankle here, a serious bout of food poisoning there—but before long, they have far deadlier consequences, from a loose wheel, to a suspicious suicide. Marc is horrified to realize that these incidents are helping his own team—is the murderer in his inner circle?

    The Right Sort of Man, by Allison Montclair
    In post World War II London, jovial Iris Sparks and reserved widow Gwendolyn Bainbridge unite to form a matchmaking business, The Right Sort Marriage Bureau. But when their first client is murdered, and police believe it was at the hands of the man she was matched with, the pair must wade into the investigation in order to solve the mystery (and defend their brand new business’s reputation). This time, however, their meddling may cost them their lives.

    The Book Supremacy (Bibliophile Series #13), by Kate Carlisle
    Brooklyn and her new husband Derek are enjoying the waning days of their Paris honeymoon when she finds the perfect gift for him—a rare first edition Bond book; The Spy Who Loved Me. Brooklyn shows the book to Derek’s pal Ned (who knows him from his days as a spy), and upon their return to San Francisco, they visit a spy shop Ned recommended, and the owner asks if he can display the book as part of a first anniversary celebration. Derek acquiesces, but before too long the news reaches them that Ned has died. When an intruder breaks into the spy shop and is also killed, it appears to be connected both to the book, and to some demons from Derek’s past that have begun surfacing…bringing murder in their wake.

    What mysteries are you excited to read this month?

    The post June’s Best New Mysteries appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 5:00 pm on 2017/05/23 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , i'm huge, james clavell, james ellroy, , l.a. confidential, , , , pillars of the earth, reamde, shogun,   

    10 Doorstoppers that Aren’t Literary Mysteries 


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    The Doorstopper: though common in the fantasy genre, in literature these books—topping 600 pages or so, heavy to carry around, and difficult to read in bed—are sometimes more of an exercise in expansive character and thematic immersion than thrilling potboilers. Think War and Peace or Infinite Jest, rewarding literary tomes that make you work for it.

    That’s not always the case, though. The ten books on this list are huge, yes, but they’re far from the traditional definition of literary fiction—they’re exciting, thrilling, terrifying, and, yes, very, very long.

    Reamde, by Neal Stephenson
    Stephenson doesn’t seem to write anything that’s short and sweet these days, as all of his books written in the last 20 years are pretty much doorstoppers. 2011’s Reamde is in some ways the ideal Stephenson novel—long, detailed, and thrilling, telling a story that combines an online virtual world, gold farming, and real-life murder and kidnapping that make you forget just how long a book it is.

    Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett
    Follett’s famous pivot from straight-ahead spy thrillers to historical fiction is certainly heavy enough to break a toe if dropped on your foot, but there isn’t a dull moment in this ambitious story. You might learn that it chronicles the building of a cathedral in a town in England in the 12th century (during a period known as The Anarchy) and think it’s got to be a tedious literary affair—but far from it. It’s closer to Game of Thrones minus the dragons, and thrilling stuff..

    The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund
    Creepy and disturbing, this huge novel gets under your skin and ruins your sleep. In modern-day Stockholm, detective Jeanette Kihlberg investigates the murder of a young boy who was horribly abused and disfigured. Jeanette works—and flirts—with child psychologist Sofia Zetterlund, who is not exactly what she seems. It’s dark, it’s violent, and not once does it feel like a doorstopper.

    Musashi, by Eiji Yoshikawa
    Translated from the Japanese, this novel, based on the life of the very real and very awesome Miyamoto Musashi, is not so much a biography as a samurai epic. Musashi lived in the 17th century and first mastered, and then revolutionized, the art of fighting with swords, becoming the most famous swordmaster in Japanese history. His life story makes for an exciting tale of adventure and swordplay, two things that are almost never boring.

    The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
    Dumas was paid by the word for this serialized novel, and he made hay with that arrangement. Despite its length, there’s not a single bit of this classic adventure novel you want to cut (though there are various abridged editions out there, you owe it to yourself to read the whole thing), and it remains an exciting tale everyone should read at least once in their lives, the story of a man who is falsely accused and imprisoned, only to escapes, find a fortune, and return under an assumed identity to exact his monstrous revenge.

    L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy
    Ellroy is well-known for lengthy novels that perfectly straddles the line between pulp and literary, offering up dense, lush noir streaked with blood and black violence. L.A. Confidential may be his greatest achievement, combining deft character work with a bleak view of society and the people who populate it as it traces the complicated threads of corruption stemming from the investigation of a bloody massacre in 1950s Los Angeles.

    Flood Tide, by Clive Cussler
    Cussler’s novels are brisk adventure stories that combine well-researched historical detail with fanciful modern touches—and regular cameos by Cussler himself. That has never stopped him from writing some pretty lengthy novels, and Flood Tide—the 14th Dirk Pitt adventure—may be his longest. Trust us, you’ll never notice.

    Orient, by Christopher Bollen
    A young man arrives in the small town of Orient Point on Long Island, where the money and glamor that has afflicted areas like the Hamptons has just begun to encroach on the old way of life. When a series of killings shock the tight-knit community, it’s easy to point a finger the stranger in town—but no one in Orient Point lacks for dark secrets. While some have called this one “literary”, it doesn’t lack for suspense or lurid thrills—both of which keep it humming along, despite its length.

    Night Film , by Marisha Pessl
    Terrifying and disturbing, Pessl’s long literary horror novel plays with your mind in ways both fair and unfair. A troubled, disgraced journalist begins investigating the death of an underground filmmaker’s brilliant daughter and falls down a rabbit hole of corruption and possible black magic. You’re never quite sure what’s actually happening—or what’s coming next—meaning the book is over in a blink, despite being thick enough to hurt someone.

    Shōgun, by James Clavell
    Clavell’s classic is another one that welcomes comparisons to Game of Thrones, except set in the real world, in an 17th century Japan boiling with politics, violence, lust, and sword fights. Thirty years after it was originally published, it remains an incredibly popular book—and a fast, thrilling read for every one of its more than 1,000 pages. The story is wonderfully complicated, but Clavell’s prose never leaves you in doubt as to each character’s motivations and loyalties (if any) as he pulls you into a sweeping, romanticized epic of the past.

     

    The post 10 Doorstoppers that Aren’t Literary Mysteries appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Lauren Passell 3:00 pm on 2014/12/18 Permalink
    Tags: ann rule, charles graebere, god'll cut you down, , james ellroy, janet malcolm, joe mcginniss, john safran, , normal mailer, serial, the good nurse, the journalist and the murderer, , ,   

    14 Books to Read if You’re Hooked on “Serial” 


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    FullSizeRender (1)Since it first aired in October, Sarah Koenig’s “Serial” podcast has been drawing people to their radios (okay, computers) to listen to the story of Adnan Syed, currently sitting in jail for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, unfold before their ears. “Serial” is addictive not only because the whos, whats, wheres, whens, and whys are intoxicating (they are), but because Koenig is presenting the tale in a uniquely personal way. It’s all about the murder, yes, but it’s also all about the storytelling and her own reflections on the case. The true crime books below offer a bit of both, as well. So if you’ve wet your whistle on true crime with “Serial,” these books are a natural follow-up when the series ends at the end of the year.

    God’ll Cut You Down, by John Safran
    Rare is the true crime book that makes us laugh and laugh and laugh, but here it is! God’ll Cut You Down is the story of John Safran’s investigation into the Mississippi murder of a white supremacist named Richard Barrett. The case seems fairly straightforward until Safran begins to reveal the colorful relationship he develops with murderer Vincent McGee, a young black man. The story is so voicey you’ll want to grab a beer with Safran, and you’ll find yourself puzzled about how much dark subjects can make you chuckle. Wacky Safran goes there, and much like the story in “Serial,” his will have you spending hours pondering the case, the villains, and the depth of the characters.

    Lying in Wait, by Ann Rule
    Ann Rule fans, rejoice! The true crime queen returns with Lying in Wait, the seventeenth collection of stories in her Crime Files series. Per usual, Ann digs into the stories like nobody else can, presenting us with the cold, hard facts we crave. If you’re simply obsessed with bloody trails, Houdini-like escapes, kidnappings, and other horrifying crimes, you’ll eat up Lying in Wait like a holiday feast.

    The Good Nurse, by Charles Graebere
    Here’s a story we would love to see Sarah Koenig sink her teeth into. Charles Cullen, RN, was behind the deaths of as many as 300 patients over a span of 16 years. Charles Graebere fleshes out the beastly career of Cullen using interviews with colleagues and family members, presenting a dedicated portrait of a sinister and unexpected murderer. The book also sheds light on America’s medical system, and will appeal to anyone interested in justice or just straight-up evil.

    Smoke, by Meili Cady
    For a wildly entertaining ride, seek out Smoke in March 2015. It has everything you loved about Serial, The Bling Ring, Blow, Catch Me If You Can, and even Orange Is The New Black. When aspiring actress Meili Cady is introduced to the drug smuggling “Korean Paris Hilton” Lisette Lee in L.A., she finds herself in a dangerous friendship she doesn’t know how to escape. Tempting rewards like luxury cars and red-carpet events keep her tangled in a life of crime, and before she realizes what she’s bitten into, it’s too late to turn around. The story, told by Cady herself, will have you at the edge of your seat. If you listen to “Serial” wishing you could hear more from the alleged criminal’s perspective, you’ll be thrilled to dig into the thoughts and rationale Cady brings to the table.

    LAPD ’53, by James Ellroy
    James Ellroy digs deeper into the L.A. crime scene in 1953 than anyone has before, with an extensive portrait that uses the Los Angeles Police Museum’s archives to flesh out the gritty police work of the time. “Serial” fans might be addicted to Adnan’s story, but readers hungry for gruesome imagery will not be disappointed with LAPD ’53—there are more than 80 duotone photos spread throughout the book that enrich the masterful storytelling Ellroy dishes up. This book drops in May 2015.

    The Job: True Stories of a New York City Cop, by Steve Osborne
    If you love crime reading but crave vibrant storytelling alongside black-and-white facts, à la “The Moth,” “This American Life,” or “Serial,” The Job will be your next favorite book. With 20 years as an NYPD street cop under his belt and a knack for the spoken word, Steve Osborne tells story after story of unbelievable true crime with a brash and honest slant. Here’s a book that will give you a new appreciation for the police force, and a deeper understanding of the seedy NYC underbelly of the 1980s and ’90s. Look for it in April 2015.

    The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule
    Get this: years ago our girl Ann Rule befriended Ted Bundy before anyone would have guessed that he kidnapped and murdered at least 30 women. The two were coworkers and friends at a crisis hotline in 1971. The Bundy atrocities are already pretty unbelievable, but hearing Rule talk about her friendship with the serial killer (even after he was convicted) will give you goosebumps, and it will blur the line between friend and foe. (If you’ve listened to “Serial” and thought, “Adnan sounds like such a good egg, there’s no way he’s guilty!” then this is a good reminder that we don’t really know anyone, now do we?) It’s weird upon weird, real upon real, like having a dream within a dream. Rule tries to tell the story in an unbiased manner, to separate herself from what she was set to report on. But it’s impossible, and reading about her investment in the crime and her odd friendship with Bundy is addictive.

    Helter Skelter, by Vincent Bugliosi
    If “Serial” has you hooked on crime stories, pick up one of the most twisted crime stories of all time. Credit that to the enigmatic character that is Charles Manson, the blind devotion of his followers, the horrific nature of this sick story, and the lively storytelling of Vincent Bugliosi, the prosecutor in the case. Bugliosi breathes so much life into the motives behind the characters and the complexities of the trial you almost feel like you’re in the court room with him, or at the very least, that you’re listening to him tell his story via podcast. The story touches on themes of law, human nature, religion, murder, the Beatles, Hollywood, and down right screwed-up-ness. (There are some nasty pictures, too.)

    Columbine, by Dave Cullen
    Everyone knows what happened at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, but it takes the detailed version written by Dave Cullen, who remained in Aurora for ten years after the shooting, to really get a feeling for what occurred that day. Cullen dives into the world of high schoolers who kill, something that might be of interest to anyone fascinated with Adnan and Jay. In one scene, students hide under desks as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold storm through classrooms, looking for their next victim. Not until reading Cullen’s words was I able to fathom what it would be like to be there—targeted and waiting for two violent, unstable, fearless boys to act. Cullen takes us under those desks. He takes us through the whole thing, splitting fact from fiction, offering insight into the why, and coloring in all the gaps of the tragedy we thought we understood.

    In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote
    You listened to “Serial” and now you’ve been bitten by the true crime bug? You have to read the most classic true crime story of all time. Capote’s account of the brutal murders of Herbert Clutter, his wife, and two of their four children in Holcolm, Kansas, is one of the finest examples of investigative journalism out there. Capote writes with the finesse and prowess that made him one of the best storytellers of our time. It’s emotional, but so well-researched that it’s obvious Capote took thousands of pages of notes in the process of getting into the lives of the victims and criminals in a way nobody else could. Too bad this couldn’t have been a podcast. Hearing Capote unveil the grisly details himself would be priceless.

    Fatal Vision, by Joe McGinniss
    In 1979, Green Beret Captain and physician Jeffrey MacDonald woke up to find three hippies butchering his pregnant wife and two young daughters with a knife, ice pick, and club, saying “acid is groovy, kill the pigs.” Or so he says. The Army didn’t believe him, and formally charged him with the murder of his family. Those charges were dismissed, but he was convicted anyway, nine years later in a civilian trial. He’s been sitting in prison for 30 years, and still, the evidence doesn’t really add up for either side. MacDonald is an unlikeable, narcissistic liar who at times seems obviously guilty (with a pretty wild version of events, to boot). But because solid evidence never surfaced, it’s not completely clear if MacDonald is a monster or the victim of a horrible injustice. To write Fatal Vision, Joe McGinniss was granted far-flung access to MacDonald’s life—MacDonald believed the book was being written in his defense. But when the final, published result was not what MacDonald had hoped for, MacDonald sued McGinniss (and won). Which leads us to wonder: what does Sarah Koenig really believe in all of this? She’s pretty open and freely admits her cluelessness, but still. There is a chance she’s wooing Adnan only to pull a fast one in the end. (Another book, Errol Morris’s A Wilderness Of Error, was written in the name of MacDonald’s innocence.)

    The Journalist And The Murderer, by Janet Malcolm
    Janet Malcolm revisits the Jeffrey MacDonald story, reporting on both the murder and Joe McGinniss’s account of it in Fatal Vision. Her book is more tightly focused on the ethics and psychopathology of journalism. As she interviews MacDonald and tells his story, she’s aware that she, as a journalist, is a player in it—very much like Sarah Koenig is a player in Syed’s story. Syed believes and trusts that Koenig will tell his story, but it’s a risky thing to do. As he sits behind bars and Koenig broadcasts her side to the world, how she tells the story is completely out of his control. Nobody knows this better than Jeffrey MacDonald. And nobody seems to have more awareness of it than Janet Malcolm. The Journalist and the Murderer will shine new light onto the Koenig/Syed relationship and give a richer understanding of what’s going on beneath the surface of “Serial.”

    Small Sacrifices, by Ann Rule
    In May of 1983, Diane Downs claimed that a “bushy-haired stranger” came up to her car while she was driving with her three children and shot at them, killing one of the kids immediately. But not so fast, Diane Downs! Ann Rule (and everyone) is onto your story. Downs’ story smelled fishy because it was, and it didn’t take long for investigators to figure out the tragedy was at her own hands. (Possible motive: she was in love with a man who didn’t want children, so she thought, “I guess I’ll have to get rid of them.”) Unlike Adnan’s story, there’s not a lot of guesswork needed here. Small Sacrifices delves into the life of a shattered woman, and how she crafted an unlikely story of being the victim of an unspeakable crime—and how she stood by her word despite all signs pointing to her guilt. Her surviving children, severely disabled for life, were old enough to remember what happened, and they were traumatized and terrified of their mother.

    The Executioner’s Song, by Norman Mailer
    People whine that Norman Mailer goes on and on (for 1,000+ pages) in telling the story of Gary Gilmore and two strange things Gilmore did: robbed and murdered two random people in 1976, and then, after being tried and convicted, insisted on dying for his crime. They say that all the excruciating detail is, well, excruciating. And that’s acceptable commentary coming from an amateur true crime fan. If you legit love crime books, and can never get enough of the meat and potatoes of a true crime story, you will be enveloped in Gilmour’s twisted logic and surprising actions, you’ll appreciate all of those details, and you’ll be glad Mailer got so down with this story, which was awarded a Pulitzer and the National Book Award. The moment you open The Executioner’s Song, you’re taking on a beast of a book. It’s not for the faint of heart—it’s the litmus test of true crime, and it separates the champions from the wimps.

    And The Sea Will Tell, by Vincent Bugliosi
    Set on Palmyra Island in the 1970s, And The Sea Will Tell is the story of two sailing couples, Mac and Muff Graham (experienced sea travelers) and Buck Walker and Jennifer Jenkins (an ex-con and his hippie girlfriend, both doomed by their lack of survival know-how). One day, months after both couples set sail, Buck and Jennifer were found sailing the Grahams’ beautiful boat off the coast of Hawaii…and the Grahams were nowhere to be found. Until 1980, when their bodies were discovered in aluminum containers on the shores of the island. Sounds clear-cut, right? But Vincent Bugliosi, normally a prosecutor (remember Helter Skelter?), decides to defend Jennifer Jenkins—a truly surprising tidbit when you hear how thin the woman’s case is. Bugliosi is a phenomenal attorney, illustrating the case with colorful dialogue and brilliant detective work. You spend 600 pages or so wondering how anyone with a brain could defend someone so stupid and culpable…but Bugliosi waits until the end to reveal a powerful detail that steers the story to a shocking conclusion that might absolve Jennifer of the crime. Crime storytelling at it’s best! I read this book once a year because I’m enamored with the writing and the case in general. I have nightmares about Palmyra Island and the atrocities that occurred there, and I’m tortured that I’ll never know exactly what happened. I could say the exact same thing about the first episode of “Serial.”

    What’s your favorite true crime book?

     
  • Monique Alice 4:30 pm on 2014/09/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , james ellroy, , , , ,   

    War, Murder, and Intrigue: James Ellroy’s Perfidia 


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    PerfidiaJames Ellroy’s newest novel, Perfidia, is a rollicking ride through the depths of L.A.’s seedy wartime underbelly. The story picks up as we meet Hideo Ashida, a young Japanese chemist on the L.A.P.D. payroll. Dr. Ashida is called to the scene to investigate the grisly, mysterious slaying of a Japanese family. Just as the investigation seems to be losing steam, the Japanese fleet bombs Pearl Harbor, rocking America’s sense of impenetrability to its core. Hideo soon finds himself caught in a storm of violence, corruption, and xenophobia. Along the way, we’re introduced to a cast of complex characters, including Captain William “Whiskey Bill” Parker, a ravenously ambitious cop plagued by alcoholism and a host of other demons; Sergeant Dudley Smith, a corrupt ex-IRA conniver; and Kay Lake, a bright young woman who uses her cunning and charm to survive in an unforgiving land.

    These characters are truly the best kind: impossible to categorize. Ellroy presents each in a dispassionate, matter-of-fact tone that is as likely to display their vice as their virtue. As a result, the reader is torn between disgust and empathy, enchantment and revulsion. As soon as we think we’ve got a read on a character, the author yanks the proverbial rug from under us, and we’re left spinning in an intoxicating haze of uncertainty. We hate Dudley Smith’s murderous nature, yet we admire his unapologetic grit. Kay Lake is as intelligent and capable as she is manipulative, and Bill Parker would be a great guy if would lay off the sauce and calm down a bit. Hideo Ashida is simultaneously the most sympathetic and the most worrisome of the bunch. We want him to succeed, but fear the compromises he must make to do so.

    Fans of Ellroy will instantly recognize his Los Angeles. It moves at a breakneck pace and never sleeps. Its gorgeous art deco facade is pockmarked with lust, greed, and bloodshed. Ellroy is not one of those authors prone to long, flowery aesthetic descriptions, yet somehow he makes the reader feel the hot California sun baking the shimmering pavement, the cool Pacific breeze on a winding drive along the coast, and the undercurrent of absolute panic in post–Pearl Harbor L.A. To the modern reader, the less recognizable part of Ellroy’s 1940s L.A. is the racism that pervades every aspect of life and is gravely worsened by the foreign attack on American soil. Dr. Ashida is a perfect vessel to show us the deeply scarring effects of America’s wartime misdeeds at the expense of Japanese citizens.

    Fans of Ellroy, murder mystery lovers, historical fiction addicts, and WWII aficionados alike will love Perfidia. Though it’s a long and complex novel, it never drags, keeping the reader compelled to the very end. Ellroy writes with an ease that contrasts nicely with the novel’s frenetic, harrowed pace. Like one of Ellroy’s jazz club dope peddlers, this book will leave you entranced and jonesing for more.

    Are you a fan of James Ellroy?

     
  • Emma Chastain 6:00 pm on 2014/09/16 Permalink
    Tags: , james ellroy, ,   

    An Interview With James Ellroy 


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    Photo by Jennifer Carroll

    Photo by Jennifer Carroll

    I met James Ellroy at Book Expo America. He was there to talk about his new novel, Perfidiathe first in a quartet. He wore a soft pink shirt patterned with white flags, leaves, and birds.

    James Ellroy leans in close. He makes eye contact. He speaks in complete paragraphs. He believes in an afterlife. He is kind and charming, even when he’s saying things like, “I’m a smart fucker, too. I’m not dicking around here.”

    Here is our conversation, slightly condensed.

    EC: You really are tall.

    JE: Thank you. I am tall.

    I am too.

    I like being tall. Do you like it?

    I like it, but it makes me shy. I slump to be on eye level with people sometimes.

    Well, I have bad posture, and I’m round-shouldered and I’ve got a little bit of curvature of the spine. But somehow I’ve retained my height, and most men my age haven’t. But I enjoy it.

    What do you enjoy about it?

    Because it’s more, and it intimidates other men, and I like tall women, and in general it’s just all that male bullshit. Ego. Why be short when you can be tall? I mean, if I had hair, I’d rule the world. 

    Is it daunting, embarking on a new quartet?

    It’s moving, more than anything else. Perfidia, the first novel of the Second L.A. quartet, which comes out September 9 from Alfred A. Knopf, is my Ragtime. And yes, it’s a novel of a horrible occurrence. America’s entrance into World War II, the Pearl Harbor bombing, the grave injustice of the Japanese interment, where innocent Japanese Americans and foreign-born Japanese were imprisoned for the length of the war because they might be fifth-column spies. It was a gross injustice that started—what I call the month of December ’41—the party at the edge of the abyss, and the precipice of America’s ascendance. It was a largely inclusive time; Americans, Los Angelinos were united in common cause. Sex took on an egalitarian tinge. There were brief and passionate love affairs deeply inspired by the war, and this overarching sense that we could be next. They don’t know what hit them in Pearl Harbor, we could be next. And I’m living that right now and it’s both daunting and entirely liberating for me as a writer.

    What’s liberating about it?

    It’s getting to live the time, assume the attitudes, of the diverse range of people and comport within their souls and their minds.

     What do you do when you’re in New York?

    I come and I see my beloved colleagues at Alfred A. Knopf. I love these folks. I’ve been at Knopf for 24 years; it’s the biggest thrill in my career. I am a Borzoi-banger of 24 years’ standing. I love it that their colophon in their mascot is a dog. I love that Knopf turns 100 next year. Apparently they’re going to redesign the physical face of the Borzoi. And I brood; I have a beautiful suite at the Lowell Hotel. Have you ever been over there? It’s a cocoon. At 63rd and Madison, and it’s utterly silent. They send food up to your room—and it’s not like they don’t do this at other hotels, but they make a great cheeseburger. I’m going to have one tonight before I go to the Knopf party. Are you going to the Knopf party?

    I wasn’t invited. And I have a six-month-old.

    Yeah, of course. So I brood. And tomorrow I’m going to brood in the hotel. I like to brood. Do you brood?

    No. I’m a terrible brooder. I read constantly to drown out the brooding.

    Okay. Have you read Perfidia?

    I started it.

     Are you digging it?

    I’m really digging it. I have to read you so much more slowly than I read anyone else because your sentences are so dense and tight and, I don’t know, musical. You’ve said that you learned a lot from Beethoven about structure—

    Yeah, and cadence.

     And cadence.

     And classical music in general. Do you like classical music?

    I do. I’m kind of an ignoramus about it, but I have some little obsessions, like the Brandenburg Concertos. Do you think that your love of classical music has influenced your work on the more granular level of the sentence?

    Yeah. I think one of the reasons I can sustain concentration so well is the fact is that I’m a fugitive from the digital age. I’ve never used a computer, I’ve never sent an email, a text message, I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t have a TV set. I rarely go to movies or watch TV. I’m able to isolate my curiosity in the historical periods that I write about. I truly lived, for the length of time that I wrote Perfidia, in L.A., in the month of January in 1941.

    I know you don’t read anymore. Did you read poetry as a young man? Because you seem like a poet who writes fiction to me.

    Yes. Thank you. That’s a compliment. The cadence, the beginning, the starting and conclusion points of paragraphs are very important to me. The whole notion of watch works, clockwork, precision, and perfection is crucial. There’s a way I have always read slowly—I say the words aloud to myself as I read anything.  As a result of just slowing down the process of my life, I am able to live in period more adroitly and to compose at that granular level that you described.

    Do you read your own work aloud?

    I read aloud in reading performances, and I will occasionally read it aloud as I rewrite the actual prose.

    Let me know if this is a question that you don’t want to address, but have you ever fallen away from your faith? I ask because I’m a lapsed Catholic, and I’m curious about the waxing and waning of your faith.

    No, I’ve always been a Christian. And Protestant. And there have been times when my practice has been more assiduous. And it’s assiduous now. I have a prayer practice. I go to church. I believe more deeply than I ever have.

    Why is that? Do you know?

    I’m older, and I feel both this life, and human beings—and a wider range, more diverse range of human beings—than I ever have, as well as sensing the afterlife.

    So you’re sure it’s real?

    Yes.

    Do you have a visual image of it?

    No. In that sense I think it’s incomprehensible.

    I’m glad you think it exists.

    Yeah, and I’m a smart fucker, too. I’m not dicking around here.

    Is it important to you to attend services with a minister who you consider to be smart? What if the guy sermonizing is not as smart as you?

    The pastor at my church is a man named Dan Bomgardener. And I don’t really know him; I introduced myself to him once. He’s very smart and knowledgeable about Scripture, about the world at large. He has great sermons, he has off mornings, and he’s on much more than he’s off.

    Do you read the Bible?

    Yes.

    Is it important to you as literary inspiration as well as a religious text?

    It’s more important as a religious text. And I think this is a question of faith more than imagination. I’m not reading it to pick up pointers on L.A. ’41, which was a sin-soaked metropolis.

    There’s plenty of sin in the Bible.

    There’s a great deal of sin in the Bible, and properly catalogued and described as such. But this is the first time, in Perfidia, that I used an epigraph from the Bible. It’s from Proverbs 3:31: “Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways.”

    Are we the oppressor in this metaphor? We, Americans?

    I’m going to leave that up to what will hopefully be the many readers of this book. More than anything else, it’s oppress not. Just don’t do this. Don’t hurt anybody; it’s wrong.

    Do you think it’s possible to decide to be happy?

    Yes, I do. And faith has been a constant comfort for me in that regard. Pastor Dan at my church draws a distinction between joy and happiness, joyousness and happiness. I think he might—I’ve never discussed it with him—equate happy with slap-happy and stupidity, and he’s nothing if not a bright man. And I’m here to dig this journey, sister. I’ll tell ya. I’m not dragging my ass frowning by you. I’m here to spread the love and let it ride.

    Are you optimistic about the future of publishing?

    Yes.

    Why?

    Because books will always be here and people will always want to hold the book. And because—and I have to come back to Perfidia—take Perfidia, for example. It’s a beautiful Alfred A. Knopf, Chip Kidd-covered, Cathy Horrigan-designed, 701-page hardcover. That’s twenty-nine bucks. I haven’t been to a movie in a while, but aren’t they fourteen bucks now? Holy shit, you’re out the door, you have to rub elbows with a bunch of popcorn-chomping fools, texting. Now there’s a half an hour of trailers where they tell you the whole story, you might or might not like the movie, they kick you out in two hours, and you don’t have that 700-page Knopf hardcover to come home to, that you can keep on your shelf and reread. It’s a bargain.

    Do you get cover approval?

     Yes.

    PerfidiaDo you participate actively in the process of design?

    Chip Kidd is a close friend of mine—the genius graphic designer. Arguably, to those who know, the great American graphic designer of this era. And this is my favorite Chip Kidd cover. So he sent it to me and I just said one word: Yes. With ten exclamation points.

    How would you characterize New Yorkers versus Angelinos?

    It’s a more conservative place, it’s a more compressed place. It’s humanity on a hotplate as opposed to humanity dispersed over a bunch of griddles—that is Los Angeles. I couldn’t live here; it’s too much for me. I need more breathing room. I’m happy to come here for a period of time.

    Do you have the entire quartet mapped out?

    Largely. Yeah. Largely. And you’ll see as you read Perfidia, you’ll start to grasp who the big players are.

    Are you anxious to get to the actual writing, or is the structure and the planning enjoyable?

    The structure and the planning is essential. It’s primal for me. The outline for Perfidia was 700 pages. I know everywhere the book has to go, down to the minute detail. And what this allows me to do is live immediately in the individual sense and to densify them ad hoc because the overall structure is inviolate. It adds eight months to the process of writing a novel for me. But you can’t write a book as richly plotted and as dense and complex as Perfidia without having an outline. That’s why it’s essential.

    Does the language in your outlines at all resemble the language in the finished product, or is it looser?

    The dialogue that I include in the outline is only an expositional device to get across the physical action and the exposition that has to occur. I also want for my book agent, Nat Sobel, and my editor, Sonny Mehta of Boston Knopf, I want to give them, if they’re going to read 700 pages of outline, a pleasurable and engaging experience. So I tack on eight months to the delivery date of any book of mine.

    What is your editorial experience like with Mr. Mehta? I guess I can’t really imagine anyone editing you.

    It goes first to my book agent, Nat Sobel. We’ve been working together 33 years. He offers suggestions, I make the edits, I agree, I disagree, I make some, I decline to make some. It goes to Sonny. He reads it twice. He comes up with line ideas and occasionally an overall idea, a conceptual idea. “I want you to make some cuts to make this a more effective length.” I did that with Perfidia, I cut 40,000 words. And he was right, the book reads faster, reads more cohesively as a result. We talk on the telephone; I generally come to New York and meet with Sunny either at his office or his apartment.

    In your interview with ShortList, you said you had no sympathy for the underclass.

    I have some sympathy for the underclass. What happened in the ShortList interview is that I allowed myself to be baited on current events. And for the record—and it’s the tack I’m taking for Perfidia—the fact that I immerse myself in long-ago times and places and historical events has inured me to modern-day, contemporary America. I’m not a pundit, I’m not a political commentator, and so I’m going to refrain from the whole issue of the topical relevance of this book. As far as I’m concerned, 2014 does not exist. It’s only December 1941.

    That sounds so lonely.

    Miss Chastain, I live in my imagination. I have friends. I’m very close with my ex-wife. We talk every night. She lives in Denver. I don’t have kids or family. I have marvelous colleagues. I have men friends; I have women friends. I brood—to great effect. And I spend a lot of time alone and I enjoy it. It’s just that I don’t partake of the culture, or consider it germane to my life. And as long as it proves second to me and I can write books like Perfidia and enjoy my life contemporaneously, c’est la guerre.

    New Yorkers, James Ellroy will read from his new novel on Thursday, September 18th at 7 p.m. in the Union Square Barnes & Noble. Don’t miss it. 

     
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