Friday, November 14, 2014

Perfidia by James Ellroy

The time is December 1941.  Specifically, December 6th, the day before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor to December 29th.  The place is Los Angeles, a city built on diverse populations, Tinseltown, law enforcement and criminal schemes. 

A Japanese family has been murdered.  Husband, wife, son and daughter, all killed and made to appear as a ritual Japanese suicide.  The police investigate but much more than a murder is involved.  There are land grabs, Japanese internments, patriotism, Fifth Column traitors, the world of boxing, fascists and criminals, tong wars, opium, movie stars, religion and eugenic manipulation.

The main characters are these:  William Parker and Dudley Smith are both policemen.  They are rivals to replace the chief when he retires in a few years.  Hideo Ashida is a Japanese policeman who has insights into the crime and switches allegiances between the two men depending on who can protect him and his family from arrest and internment.  Ashida is Dr. Ashida and is one of the first forensic policeman who can solve crimes from the evidence left.  Kay Lake is a twenty-one year old Midwestern girl who came to Los Angeles to act but found herself acting roles in men's fantasies instead. 

James Ellroy has written a compelling novel that outlines the city right after the start of World War II.  This is not a city and a police force to be glorified.  It is a city and police force mired in crime and double-dealing and betrayal.  Nothing is too sacred to be sacrificed on the alter of greed and self-aggrandizement.  The book seems to spin out of control but Ellroy keeps a master's hand on the narrative, bringing it to a conclusion that few readers will see coming.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those who enjoy noir literature. 

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