Thoughts on James Ellroy’s masterwork Perfidia by Ellroy expert Steve Powell

Originally posted on The Venetian Vase:

PerfidiaIn Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder (2006) Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss created a highly impressive chart they titled ‘Los Angeles 1935-1950: A Web of Connections’ which ‘situates Black Dahlia murder suspect George Hodel within the culturally elite circles of Los Angeles at the time of the murder and illustrates the close geographical proximity of the central characters in our book.’

After completing my second reading of James Ellroy’s Perfidia, I’m beginning to see more clearly how Ellroy has devised his own web of connections within his body of work as a crime novelist. Nelson and Bayliss explored the potential connections of figures such as Man Ray and John Huston to the Black Dahlia case, building upon the work of former LAPD detective Steve Hodel. With Perfidia, Ellroy has embarked upon a second LA Quartet, preceding the first Quartet chronologically, which, in its myriad…

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Crimezine Treasure Coast with Tom Kakonis

Crimezine cruises the Treasure Coast with Tom Kakonis

Calabasas crime fiction kingpins Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman, co-founders of boutique publishing venture Brash Books have been publishing a veritable of crimewave of cult-tastic classic-crime novels of late.

Edgar-nominated, Goldberg is no slouch in the crime fiction department himself. A prolific TV writer/producer and novelist, he has scripted more cult crime shows than you can shake a .38 special at, including Diagnosis Murder and the frankly nutso Monk. Most recently he teamed up with the pulchritudinous and multi-talented Janet Evanovich for the bestselling Fox & O’Hare novels, The Heist and The Chase. International best-selling crime author Joel Goldman meanwhile, is best known for his Alex Stone, Lou Mason and Jack Davis Thrillers.

Cult crime legend Tom Kakonis is widely lauded by many as the natural heir to the Elmore Leonard throne. His first book Michigan Roll was published in 1988 when the author was 57. Kakonis is now 83 and has certainly had an eventful life. He served in the Army in Korea, before swinging a sledge on a railroad section crew and perhaps most useful of all for fiction writing, teaching inmates at Stateville Prison in Joliet, Illinois. Then there were the decades he spent as a struggling college professor, before he finally managed to break into the world of crime fiction.

Kakonis’ work has been out of print for many years, so crime fans are understandably excited that Brash Books is republishing the Kakonis oeuvre in its entirety—Michigan Roll, Criss Cross, Flawless, Blind Spot and perhaps most exciting of all, Treasure Coast a work that has been sitting on the shelf for years.

Comparable to the aforementioned Leonard, and with an added exuberance/kookiness reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen, Treasure Coast pulses with the kind of beaten down low-lifes that have made Kakonis’s work so special.

When waster Jim Merriman makes a death bead promise to look after his sisters twenty-one year-old son Leon, you just know there is going to be trouble and pretty soon there is—lots of trouble—as the hapless duo rampage their way along Florida’s Treasure Coast—loan sharking, thuggery, kidnapping—a mail order tombstone con and then there is the whacko psychic who channels the dead and a monster hurricane spinning closer with every passing second. Treasure Coast by Tom Kakonis, you just got to read it to believe it Crimeziners.

Crimezine The Galton Case.

Ross MacDonald The Galton Case

California Crime writing legend Ross Macdonald has frequently been compared to Chandler, Hammett, and James M. Cain. A darling of crime writers and readers of discernment, Macdonald’s prowess as a crime writer has been highly influential down the years.

But there are others who consider his work difficult, and rather intellectually superior for their tastes, preferring instead the work of others such as the similarly named John D. MacDonald. [Of Travis McGee fame]. The startling reputations of both writers are unassailable. But of all the Macdonald’s writing in the crime genre—Ross Macdonald can be unquestioningly called, The thinking mans crime writer.

The Galton Case is a densely plotted psychological detective mystery featuring Macdonald’s hardboiled private eye Lew Archer. Macdonald once said it was his favorite novel, the best he ever wrote. Which is certainly saying something as he wrote some of the most influential and highly readable detective fiction of the 1950s and 1960s, a time when detective fiction was big news.

Macdonald’s work is highly complex and yet startlingly concise. At just under 240 pages The Galton Case is a cunningly distilled masterpiece. Most modern novelists are pushed to devise such swirling and mysterious conspiracies at anything under 400 pages. The Galton Case also contains some startlingly beautiful language, that is far subtler than Chandler’s frontal assault to the senses; less brutally hardboiled than the work of Hammett, and more thoughtfully intellectual that the gritty nastiness of the Cain oeuvre.

—How intellectual, we hear you ask. Well, there is reference to Rimbaud’s theory of the violation of the senses; there are also many subtly pertinent allusions to Greek myths layered deeply inside the kind of murderously devious plot that will send your head spinning.

The Galton Case kicks off in the fictional California town of Santa Teresa, (A thinly disguised Santa Barbara) when the aging and incredibly wealthy Mrs. Galton hires Archer to find her long lost son. But, what seems at first like a staggeringly impossible missing-persons case quickly evolves into a murderous trail into the past, where everything we understand as real quickly melts away into the swirling mists of the Pacific. Deep delve into the mysterious past, discover beat poetry, gangsters, swindlers and strong-arm racketeers. Discover also, the depths of human frailty and a morally complex imbroglio of family life gone horribly and irrevocably awry.

Written in 1959 The Galton Case is charmingly old fashioned in many respects, but the wit and the intelligence of Ross Macdonald’s writing will remain for many long years to come. You too can be a part of it Crimeziners. Check out The Galton Case. Tell them Crimezine sent you..…/ross-macdonald-a-biography-by-tom-nolan/


Crimezine Night crawler

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Nightcrawler Lou Bloom

If it bleeds it leads Crimeziners. The new Jake Gyllenhaal flick Nightcrawler exploring the dark underbelly of the TV News freelancing industry is a must see for all crime fans.

Co-produced by Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler is also a family day out for Bourne trilogy brothers Dan and Tony Gilroy. The gorgeous Rene Russo AKA Mrs. Dan Gilroy also stars.

Nightcrawler is filled with noirish nastiness and Gyllenhaal is hypnotic as Richard Ramirez style petty criminal and psycho Lou Bloom. As he prowls the LA night, Bloom chances upon a scene of freeway carnage and promptly decides that there is money to be made as a freelance TV news cameraman.

Bloom is as ambitious as he is unscrupulous, a mix of talents that propels him to the top of the trade at the expense of innocent bystanders. Along the way, we get very many marvelous moments, as Bloom inflicts his philosophy of self-empowerment on all and sundry—an acerbic metaphor for not only the unsavory side of media intrusion, but the voracious nature of capitalism itself.

Deep? Do not worry. There are car chases. There is gore. There is moral torment and some stunning cinematography from Robert Elswit. This tense and suspenseful movie will have your heart pumping out of your chest.

Award winning photojournalist and Crimezine chum Howard Raishbrook worked as a Consultant on this movie. Mild mannered Howard is the perfect English gentleman and the very antithesis of psycho Gyllenhaal character; but his company RMG provided valuable background for the making of the movie. Expect to see more of H coming your way soon, as the success of Nightcrawler means RMG will feature in a new reality TV show featuring a veritable carnival of vehicular misfortune and crime scene carnage. How did Gyllenhaal cultivate the Richard Ramirez style cheek-bones? According to H a regime of flavored tooth-picks, herbal-tea, and punishing ten mile runs created that effortlessly starved look. Hollyweird—it’s not all red carpets and champagne, is it Crimeziners?

Patrick Wilson as off-the-rails limo driver Stretch

Stretch—Bad-craziness in Los Angeles Limoland

Ah, there you are Crimeziners. When was the last time you saw a really cult-tastic crime flick? A movie so trashy you wanted to ring John Waters up and wonder out loud why he doesn’t quit hitchhiking around the USA and make a really kick-ass crime film.

The good news is that Stretch is just such a movie. Packed with car chases and crazy cameos this b-movie crime romp has bar-rooms buzzing. Think Crank, Transporter, Collateral—take twenty-million-dollars off the production budget and you have Stretch.

The movie features Patrick Wilson as off-the-rails limo driver Stretch, whose career as a failed actor and inveterate gambler have led him into debt with a crew of bad assed gangsters with generically thick, You no pay I killl youuu, type accents.

Naturally, Stretch has to up his game. A year clean of booze and drugs, after his shallow squeeze Candice dumps him for the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, and the pressures are piling in for the hapless limo tout. His boss hates him; the competition are out to get him and his asshole clients are —just insane.

Meet David “Baywatch” Hasselhoff, in a hilarious cameo that trumps his performance in the aforementioned Waters film, A Dirty Shame. The Hoffster plays a self-obsessed uber-self who just won’t shut up. So bad it is goooood baby.

Surely it couldn’t get any worse? Ray Liotta—proves us wrong—turning up to play a nasty parody version of himself, as actor, as gangster, as tight-tipping nightmare client, who whooops leaves his gun in the limo. It does beg the question however—Liotta—is he in every low-budget crime movie these days?

The ante is upped when Stretches limo guru buddy messily shoots himself in the head, then returns from the dead to offer mocking advice on Stretches life failings and his lack of success in paying the gangsters back.

Just when it looks like Stretch will be gunned down by the debt collectors, a new client Karos [Chris Pine] literally parachutes naked from the skies. With his wildman vagrant beard, big bag of cocaine and penchant for bad craziness of every kind, you just know that both the limo and Stretch are going to acquire the kind of damage that won’t buff-out at the drive thru valet service.

It is of course all very silly; the sort of movie that causes aficionados of “serious cinema” to break out in hives. But we don’t worry too much about them, do we Crimeziners? Such people are far too busy whining about the horrible ending of Affleck flick Gone Girl to catch a film like Stretch. Too bad for them eh?

Revenge of the Green

Revenge of the Green Dragons—You die now!

Crimeziners who are fans of subtitled “foreign” films will no doubt have seen Andrew Lau classic Infernal Affairs. Crimezine chum Marty Goodfellas Scorsese liked it so much he remade it as Oscar-winning The Departed.

Scorsese is credited as Executive Producer on Revenge of the Green Dragons, which may give the impression to many that this is somehow a Marty movie. Unfortunately it is not. What we are dealing with here is a cult style Chinese movie with English dialogue. If it worked with the Departed, why not here?

“There’s a storm coming detective, and I don’t know of any umbrellas that will keep this city dry,” Quite. It is clear from an early stage that Marty has thrown a fat pile of cash and his best wishes behind this movie and not much more. Meanwhile, Scorsese pal Ray Liota turns up half way through the movie, looking antsy and bloated, in the kind of glorified cameo he specializes in. But he appears bored and apologetic throughout.

Revenge of the Green Dragons. Is based on the story of a real-life retro street gang—the kind of “terrifying” and “merciless” criminals who had middle class America squealing with fear and disbelief before the current crop of Islamic-based criminals came on the scene.

Sonny (Justin Chon) and Steven (Kevin Wu) are two Chinese-American brothers from Brooklyn who find themselves embroiled in the world of the Green Dragons street gang. It doesn’t matter how hard you shout at these nice young men, they are not going to listen. They are quite determined to hammer their square-peg lives into the round hole of street-murder, gang-banging and heroin-dealing. A déjà-vuish demise of such copybook proportions you really wonder how they didn’t see it coming.

Fans of grisly slow-motion murders—headshots, torture, mom-rape, and lovingly filmed knife wound close-ups will not be disappointed. There are also very many patented Bruce Lee, crazed-face-of death-you-die-now expressions pulled by each and every interchangeable bad guy at all the appropriate moments.

There is a half-hearted racism/immigration theme  here, but this seems to have been rather clumsily trowled into the plot as an afterthought.

Naturally it all ends badly, and with a great deal of unintentional ennui—But you already knew that didn’t you Crimeziners?


Kill the Messenger Film

Kill The Messenger the story of Gary Webb

Some stories are just too true to be told. At least this is what new movie Kill the Messenger tells us about investigative reporter Gary Webb.

But who is Gary Webb? We hear you ask. Simply put he is the man who blew the lid off the CIA plot to secretly fund the right-wing terrorist death squads in Nicaragua.

They did this, according to Webb, by importing billions of dollars of drugs and guns into inner city America, an act that was almost singularly responsible for the crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s

Kill the Messenger is a cinematic re-telling of the Webb story on crack cocaine and the CIA. The movie follows Webb [Jeremy Renner] in his mission to break the story of the century, it also follows the subsequent implications of “the little man” coming up against the full might of the US governments covert policy in Central America.

Crimeziners who have not heard of Gary Webb, or his book Dark Alliance should immediately follow the link below as the story is not only an astounding piece of journalism it is also one of the bravest and perhaps foolish stands against the kind of “big government” that it is currently so fashionable to criticize.

As for the movie, well this is a grim little piece of cinema. Renner is marvelous throughout, but this is not a date night movie by any stretch of the imagination. Brief cameos by Ray Liotta and Michael Sheen and Andy Garcia sadly don’t help much.

If you are a fan of politics or current events you will no doubt be familiar with the train-wreck repercussions of US government policy in Central America. You  may also be aware that Webb’s story—although widely rubbished at the time by the CIA and their establishment media puppets—has become a matter of historical record—too late for Gary Webb unfortunately, after his journalistic career was ruined by the fallout from this sensational story he was found dead in 2004. Although he had been shot twice in the head, his death was ruled a suicide.