Sunday, May 26, 2013


James Ellroy

Open Road Media ebook, 2011
(originally published in 1982)

After the death of his partner Wacky Walker, a young patrolman Fred Underhill learns from newspapers about the murder of a woman with whom he once spent a night. Underhill makes a connection between the murder of Maggie Cadwallader and murder of a woman from those times when Underhill’s partner was alive. Both murders are similar in method and means, and Underhill, ambitious and in dreams of the badge of a LAPD detective, violeting the law, begins to conduct his own investigation, gradually focusing on one suspect, a womanizer and gambler Eddie Engels. Having found Maggie’s brooch in Eddie’s apartment, Underhill is convinced that Eddie is the killer. Underhill puts the collected evidence (except the brooch) to his boss, and the boss assignes the patrolman to a working group, led by an experienced detective and violent psychopath Dundee. Independent group (clandestine) of four detectives is to gather evidence against Engels, preferably by proving that, in addition to Maggie, Engels had killed several other women. But the Underhill’s plan and the work of the group leads to wrongful arrest, and Underhill loses his badge. But he will come back to the death of Maggie, a few years later.

After the stunning debut Brown's Requiem Ellroy somewhat disappoints with his second book. Clandestine is the same Brown's Requiem, only transferred 30 years in the past. The main character changed private detective license to LAPD badge, became younger and the fascination with classical music is replaced by golf. Otherwise this is all the same ambitious, narcissistic, eccentric man who dreams of conquering the world (within his means) and get the heart of one and only. Both novels even are written in the first person.

Ellroy here delivers, of course, but only sporadically. Underhill marries a woman with a prosthetic leg. In the novel appears the boy in his nine years with the growth of an adult male. Homosexual provides an alibi (and this is the fifties) for a murder suspect. Even the final denouement is logical and natural, though Underhill is not Fitz Brown, he thinks slower.

But Ellroy missed the important thing: all that has happened to Underhill in the years following his departure from the LAPD, the author packed into two chapters:

«It started getting bad with Lorna gradually, so that there was no place to look for causes and no one to blame. It was just a series of smoldering resentments. Too much giving and too much taking; too much time spent away from each other; too much investing of fantasy qualities in each other. Too much hope and too much pride and too little willingness to change.

And too much thinking on my part. Early in '54 I told Lorna that. "Our brains are a curse, Lor. I want to use my muscles and not my brain." Lorna looked up from her breakfast coffee and scratched my arm distractedly. "Then go ahead. You used to tell me 'Don't think,' remember?" »

Fred Underhill has changed a lot over the years, but in the second part of the novel after his almost divorce from his wife for some reason he is still the same. Family life of Fred and Lorna is what would amount to a novel that would probably be more complex than what happened in Clandestine.

It is sad that Ellroy has squandered his talent on self-repetition.

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