L. A. CONFIDENTIAL

CLASSIC GUMSHOE DETECTIVE NOVELS continued (part 1):

L. A. CONFIDENTIAL : James Ellroy

   Confidential Magazine was a 1950s rag that snooped on celebrities. It was based on the belief that there were a million stories in L.A., all of them enough to raise eyebrows and curl hair. And so this story revolves around that idea with a plot that intertwines itself around the Mob, police brutality, corruption and vigilantism, sex and drugs. Yet the narrative never veers far from its core theme of cops competing with crooks to see who can be more corrupt and violent. Ellroy weaves a labyrinthine plot, but the twists are always clear because the characters are so sharply drawn; we don't know who's guilty or innocent, but we know who should be.

    A magazine called “Hush Hush” is run by a sleazy editor who pays one cop to make celebrity arrests catching them while involved in embarrassing situations. Vincennse is the cop who can be bribed. He is an advisor on the hit TV program “Badge of Honor”. His ability to move between two worlds and betray both is almost exemplary. But he winds up knowing too much about the local police corruption, accidentally, and pays for it with his life.

   There’s the millionaire pornographer named Pierce Padgett who runs a high class call girl service, dressing up aspiring young actresses (even under the knife) to look like famous movie stars. One who gets tangled in this web of corruption is Lynn Bracken, cut to look like Veronica Lake. Padgett winds up dead as well as the plot thickens.

  Then there is the ambitious but straight laced cop, Ed Exley, trying to run up the ladder and best his dead father’s reputation as a good cop, while another detective, Bud White, is aggressive and willing to accommodate the department’s relaxed ethics. They wind up as unlikely allies as things progress.

   The plot involves a series of crimes that take place in the early days of the New Year, 1953. Associates of Mickey Cohen, the L.A. mob boss, become victims of gangland-style executions. There's a massacre at an all-night coffee shop victimizing one of Padgett’s hookers while one of the victims is a crooked cop, and three black youths are immediately collared as suspects, although there's suspicion that someone else is behind the crime.

   Bud White thinks that the Veronica Lake look-alike may know something about the coffee shop massacre as clues slowly begin to make sense about these gangland murders; clues that could implicate the L.A. Police Captain and the local drug turf wars. He winds up falling for Bracken as does Exley which complicates the plot later when these two men (who have come to hate each other for other reasons as well) must unite to survive and bring justice to a corrupt vigilante style police force bent on taking over the underworld drug and porno business.

    There are more twists and turns here than a contortionist with a pipe cleaner, and Ellroy knows just how far to bend his story in order to break the plot wide open. This is gumshoe entertainment at its classic best. James Chandler would be proud !

Doug Taylor