Blood's a Rover: A Novel

Ellroy's oh-the-humanity neo-noir crimespeak bubbles up not from the heart nor from the head but from the gut

Book Review

Blood's a Rover: A Novel

by James Ellroy
Knopf, 656 pp., $28.95

Is James Ellroy a gas at cocktail parties or what? We know the self-described "demon dog of American crime fiction" is a proto-hopheaded wildman, frothing over and mind's eye vein-lining the give-and-take carnality of the intimate author-and-audience setting at his book tour readings. Those readings – and there have been many of them over the years, along with a clutch of bios, nonfiction works, and forays into, onto, and behind the silver screen – have been compared, favorably, to the raw, violent, visceral, and utterly poetic conflagration of the Hindenburg's final doomed docking. That fits, because Ellroy's oh-the-humanity neo-noir crimespeak bubbles up not from the heart (as did Dashiell Hammett's) nor from the head (à la Ross Macdonald) but from the gut, usually chaperoned by various and sundry slugs of crimped, poisonous lead.

Blood's a Rover is the grand finale of Ellroy's "Underworld U.S.A." trilogy (which began with 1995's American Tabloid and continued with 2001's The Cold Six Thousand), and it's far and above his most personal – at times almost cloyingly intimate – novel to date (excluding, of course, My Dark Places, his relentlessly downbeat nonfiction account of the search for his mother's murderer). Set against the turbulent backdrop of the crackling doomfest that was America's summer of '68 are Ellroy's schizoid alter egos, chief among them a panty-sniffing, private-peeper (shades of Ellroy's own deliciously perverse youth-gone-wild here), once-upon-a-cop Wayne Tedrow, now in league with the Vegas mob for control over the Dominican Republic, and J. Edgar Hoover's right hand of Dog, Dwight Holly. All are played, sashayed, and occasionally laid by the Red Goddess Joan, a lefty Mata Hari with a singular itch for plural publicans.

No other American author short of Don DeLillo can recontextualize relatively recent American anti-history like Ellroy does here; it's a tragi-manic finger dance, what he does with his keyboard and the evolving shadow-history he's constructed around the intersection of crime, politics, and the American zeitgeist, dazzlingly executed and paying off in the bloody American dream.

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Blood's a Rover, James Ellroy, Underworld U.S.A., Wayne Tedrow, Dwight Holly, Red Goddess Joan

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