L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy

 “He thought of Bud White, Ed Exley.  He sent up a wedding day prayer: The NiteOwl dead and buried, safe passage for ruthless men in love.”

This line, half way through the book, made me love it.  I wavered back a forth between hate and respect for a long time, but at this point I was caught – hook, line and sinker.

Ellroy writes in an intense, staccato style which beats you around.  I must admit, following his story was a challenge, and I’m a pretty well-rounded reader.  I write urban fantasy cause it’s my style, but I love reading crime novels, classics, and literary fiction, not to mention Tolkien and other great fantasy writers.  Ellroy liberally uses everyone’s first and last names, has a huge cast, and a story ranging over 10 years from beginning to end.  Reader prepared to be challenged.

I watched the movie several years ago, and have always been interested in crime from the 1950’s, plus I have a prologue which takes place in the same decade.  I can almost write Ellroy’s novel off as research.  I really enjoyed the movie.  It was gripping, over the top, and brilliant.  I love that White and Exley becoming friends in the end to face a foe bigger than their hatred for each other.  I love it.  I watched the movie again as I neared the end of the book because I was having a hard time following the story.  I felt in need of a “cliff notes” version to remind me what was really going on, in the big picture.  It helped me focus in on the points of the plot and the mystery of the crimes committed.

Now, I started this book and didn’t really enjoy it.  Call me old-fashioned, but I like stories with heroes.  I like good guys.  I like a little varnish.  The world is filled with enough evil as it is, I don’t really enjoy soaking in it when I’m trying to relax.  Ellroy’s heroes have no varnish. None. Nada.  Zip.  They are ruthless, hard, cold, and just about as evil as the men they hunt.  They are selfish, self-serving, disloyal and kinda gross.  Any good points they have are lost in all the bad.  In fact, the movie had to add varnish.  It made them much better than they were.   So, here I am in the middle of a book with no real good men, covering topics in detail which are the lowest of humanity.  I’m asked myself, “Why am I reading this?”  Will any good come from it.  I kept reminding myself that I liked the movie…not always the best way to motivate yourself to finish a book.  Books and movies are two totally different artistic storytelling mediums.  Then, I got to the line I quoted above and I decided to finish the book!

“…safe passage for ruthless men in love.”

So…now I’ve finished the book.  What did I find?  Heroes!  Yay!  Ruthless men in difficult situations who stop looking at what is gonna save their skin and start looking at what is right.  They start seeing past their hatred of one another, and find the common foe, only to realize they make a really good team.  I loved it!

The movie edited out 90% of the plot and brought the team together much quicker than the book did.  It slimmed down the case and made the story easier to follow.  It cut out a lot of the grosser and more debased sides of the story…if it hadn’t no one would have watched it.  The book is a hard-hitting, fast paced, over the top story of three cops without stellar records caught in a series of crimes much bigger than they.  Out of it comes a trust and friendship which leaves the reader feeling very satisfied.

In this case, I would recommend the movie as a great film, and the book as a great book.  Both take a strong stomach and a strong mind.  Neither are clean or pure, but they come out shining with ruthless men doing the right thing.