Perfidia (James Ellroy)

Article by keaton

James Ellroy is the mad prophet of American crime fiction. A consummate stylist, he is known for his rapid-fire prose and unnerving understanding of the darkest of psychological traits. However, it is the profound sense of place and time pervading Ellroy’s work--his ability to manipulate the liminal space between fact and fiction--that elevates his writing far beyond the restraints of genre, even though he has never felt the need to abandon his chosen form, nor has he suffered for it.

Over the course of a career spanning more than three decades, Ellroy has produced some of the most impeccable hardboiled noir fiction this side of Chandler or Hammett. If he were never to write again, his masterpiece may very well be the seven books that make up the LA Quartet (THE BLACK DAHLIA, THE BIG NOWHERE, LA CONFIDENTIAL, WHITE JAZZ) and the Underground USA Trilogy (AMERICAN TABLOID, THE COLD SIX THOUSAND, BLOOD’S A ROVER). Together, these seven novels comprise a single, searing fictional exposé of American crime and political corruption from the late ‘40s through the ‘70s. As a whole, it is a magisterial literary accomplishment. Each volume reveals a deeper facet of the violence and dishonesty underlying the triumphant narrative of American progress throughout the second half of the twentieth century and demands we reckon with the dark side of our history. But for Ellroy, it is not enough. Not yet.

Now comes PERFIDIA, the first installment in a new quartet of novels set in the City of Angels before the events of the LA Quartet and Underground USA. It is December 1941. Pearl Harbor and the Japanese internment that follows in its aftermath are about to tear the city of Los Angeles apart. Just before news of the bombing hits, the apparent ritualistic suicide of the entire Watanabe family is discovered. Due to the suspicion and bigotry aimed at Japanese-Americans of the time, the grisly case is originally met with derisive neglect by the LAPD. However, a few hours later, when America enters the war, it proves to be the catalyst setting in motion a sprawling epic of murder, corruption, greed, racism, espionage, and mass hysteria.

PERFIDIA centers around four main characters drawn into a complex and treacherous conspiracy, each adding a distinct perspective and offering up disparate pieces of evidence:

There is Hideo Ashida, a brilliant Japanese-American forensic investigator and closeted gay man, desperate to appease anyone with the power to keep him and his family out of the internment camps. He may also be the only one with the skill and intelligence to uncover the truth behind the deaths of the Watanabes.

William Parker would be a good man if he were not such a mess. A destructively ambitious police captain, guilt-ridden Catholic, and hopeless alcoholic, Parker truly wants to become Chief of Police and reform the LAPD, but he is haunted by his own corrupt past and obsession over a woman he cannot have. 

Kay Lake--the sole first-person narrator in PERFIDIA--is no mere femme fatale or hopeless ingénue. A left-leaning failed actress, she fell prey to a white slave prostitution ring before being rescued by and entering a loveless relationship with police officer Lee Blanchard. However, her proximity to Lee inadvertently apprises her of morally dubious activities, making her vulnerable to being conscripted as a blackmailed informant.

And then there is Sergeant Dudley Smith, the towering figure of the novel. A supremely contradictory and terrifying character, Smith sits astride wartime LA like a rogue colossus, guiding every crime and crisis to his benefit. Amoral yet principled, charming but ruthless, a doting father, drug addict, faithful Catholic, war profiteer, and stone killer, Smith and his underlings on both sides of the law cut a bloody swath through PERFIDIA a mile wide. He is unforgettable, simultaneously the greatest hero and most malevolent villain. 

With its masterful amalgamation of fact and fiction, PERFIDIA is proof nobody knows the darkness within the American soul like James Ellroy. Moreover, as a prequel to his greatest works, PERFIDIA provides the ideal opportunity for newcomers to read Ellroy for the first time, while also giving long-time fans a chance to glimpse younger incarnations of their favorite characters. But no matter your level of familiarity, you can be certain that PERFIDIA is a vibrant, twisted ride into the dark heart of the greatest generation.

Perfidia Cover Image
ISBN: 9780307956996
Availability: Special Order - Subject to Availability
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - September 9th, 2014

James Ellroy presents PERFIDIA at Brazos Bookstore on Monday, October 6 at 7PM

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