We are behind, and below, the scenes of JFK's presidential election, the Bay of Pigs, the assassinationin the underworld that connects Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago, D.C. . . .
Where the CIA, the Mob, J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, Jimmy Hoffa, Cuban political exiles, and various loose cannons conspire in a covert anarchy . . .
Where the right drugs, the right amount of cash, the right murder, buys a moment of a man's loyalty . . .
Where three renegade law-enforcement officersa former L.A. cop and two FBI agentsare shaping events with the virulence of their greed and hatred, riding full-blast shotgun into history. . . .
James Ellroy's trademark nothing-spared rendering of reality, blistering language, and relentless narrative pace are here in electrifying abundance, put to work in a novel as shocking and daring as anything he's written: a secret history that zeroes in on a time still shrouded in secrets and blows it wide open.
Although it follows his L.A. Trilogy chronologically, Ellroy's visceral, tightly plotted new novel unfolds on a much wider stage, delivering a compelling and detailed view of the American underworld from the late 1950s to the assassination of JFK. Demythologizing the Camelot years, Ellroy (White Jazz) depicts a nexus of renegade government agencies, mobsters, industrial tycoons and Hollywood players fueling the rise and fall of the Kennedy administration. The story hinges on the entanglements of three 40-something government mercenaries who play major, behind-the-scenes roles in such events as the Bay of Pigs and the assassination of the president. Suave and sybaritic Kemper Boyd pimps for JFK while carrying out simultaneous undercover work for the CIA, FBI, Robert Kennedy and the Mob. Hulking, sadistic ex-L.A. cop Pete Bondurant, a hired killer for Jimmy Hoffa, digs dirt for a drug-addled Howard Hughes while training a cadre of bloodthirsty, anti-Castro Cuban exiles off the Florida Coast. Idealistic FBI wiretapper Ward Littel, following a series of disastrous anti-Mafia operations, becomes a Machiavellian mob lawyer. All three rub shoulders with an enormous cast of real-life characters, including clever, two-dimensional portraits of the Kennedy family, J. Edgar Hoover and Jack Ruby. Exercising his muscular, shorthand prose, Ellroy moves the narrative from break-in to lurid assignation to brutal hit job in a tightening gyre that culminates in the murder of the president. While not especially convincing as revisionist history, this is a cool and riveting evocation of a cultural epoch abounding in government surveillance, endemic corruption and yellow journalism. BOMC and QPB selections; author tour. (Feb.)