BY MARTIN KICH
Ellroy, James. L.A. Confidential. New York: Mysterious, 1990.
A strong case can be made that in the last quarter of the 20th century, James Ellroy has stylistically influenced the American mystery-detective novel more than any other novelist of the period. After writing seven other crimes novels in six years, Ellroy focused his energies on his “L.A. Quartet”—The Black Dahlia (1987), The Big Nowhere (1988), L.A. Confidential (1990), and White Jazz (1992). In this tetralogy, Ellroy has transformed narrative into an amalgam of the rhythms of the popular press, of the electronic media, and of the cacophony of voices that has aurally defined the Los Angeles landscape just as the mixture of architectural styles has visually defined it.
L.A. Confidential is the most widely known novel in the tetralogy, in large part because of its adaptation to an Academy Award-winning film starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, and Kim Basinger. The novel focuses on an attempt by renegade cops to take advantage of a temporary power vacuum in the underworld and assume control of the rackets. The focal event in the novel is a horrific massacre in a restaurant in which a cop has seemingly become a coincidental victim. A young straight-laced detective is assigned to investigate the crime, in large part to insure that it remains unsolved. But he proves to be much more tenacious and wily than anyone has anticipated. The novel features a tabloid publisher who traps film stars into scandalous situations so that he can blackmail some of them, and a prostitution ring that features call girls who have been surgically altered to resemble famous actresses.
Friedman, Kinky. Elvis, Jesus, and Coca-Cola. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
Kinky Friedman has established himself as one of the most engagingly paradoxical personalities on the contemporary mystery-detective scene. Friedman was born on a Texas ranch but to parents who held professional credentials. His father was a licensed psychologist, and his mother held certifications as a teacher and a speech therapist. After completing a degree in the Classics at the University of Texas, Friedman worked for several years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Borneo. On returning to the U.S., he hit on the idea of creating a novelty musical act, a Country-Western band called Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys. In this persona, Friedman has straddled the seemingly opposite stereotypes of the folksy good-old-boy and the sardonic counter-cultural critic.
In the midst of the unexpected success of his musical career, Friedman began to write a series of mystery-detective novels featuring an eccentric Country-Western musician named Kinky Friedman. As reviewers have frequently pointed out, the novels in this series have typically been short on complexity and even coherence in their plots, but have been very lively in their atmosphere, in their characterizations, and in their telling.
Elvis, Jesus, and Coca-Cola is the sixth of Friedman’s novels. When one of Kinky’s friends dies, an actor named Tom Baker who had quickly become typecast as a tough guy, Baker’s father hires Kinky to locate Baker’s work-in-progress, a documentary film on Elvis impersonators, that has since gone missing. Kinky agrees to take on the case, in large part so that he can follow up on his suspicions that Baker may have been murdered. In the process, Kinky confronts again an awkward episode from his past when he was simultaneously involved with two women, whom he called Downtown Judy and Uptown Judy.
Previous Posts in This Series:
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 1-2: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/24/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-1-2/.
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 3-4: https://academeblog.org/2015/07/02/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-3-4/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 5-6: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/07/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-5-6/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 7-8: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/11/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-7-8/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 9-10: https://academeblog.org/2015/08/18/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-9-10/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 11-12: https://academeblog.org/2015/09/19/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-11-12/
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 13-14: https://academeblog.org/2015/11/15/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-13-14/.
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 15-16: https://academeblog.org/2016/01/09/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-15-16/.
Murder Is Our Peculiar Pastime: Fifty Notable American Crime Novels: 17-18: https://academeblog.org/2016/04/24/murder-is-our-peculiar-pastime-fifty-notable-american-crime-novels-17-18/.
The final post in each series is followed by links to all of the previous posts in that series.
National (In-)Security: Fifty Notable American Espionage Novels: https://academeblog.org/2014/08/30/national-in-security-fifty-notable-american-espionage-novels-49-50/
America Re-Imagined, in Retrospect: Fifty Notable American Novels about the “West”: https://academeblog.org/2015/06/02/13370/