Also on the team is nearly everyone Ellroy has thought of. The novel includes characters from his previous seven "as significantly younger people." Central are the patrician fiend Dudley Smith, who never seemed young, and Kay Lake, who was also old but in a different way.
In an age of TV and movie prequels and reboots, the prospect of an origins cycle featuring younger characters must have excited Ellroy's publishers and anyone else who missed Star Wars Episode I. But the L.A. Quartet and the so-called "Underworld U.S.A." trilogy were not a strict sequence. They overlapped unpredictably. At their excellent best there was always a sense of the author digging wildly to get himself out of the last plot hole -- there was risk and haste and moral ugliness and more good work than you could shake a stick at. The Black Dahlia, White Jazz and American Tabloid are peaks: The Cold Six Thousand was hard-edged even for him; Blood's A Rover warmed things up.
In seeking to pre-determine those sprawling storylines, Perfidia feels subdued. We have always known where history was headed in Ellroy's stories but now we know where the characters are going as well. If they seem dewy and tearful (there is a great deal of weeping) perhaps it is because their creator is equally aware. The capitalised ephiphanies, the rhetorical hectoring of facts, the atrocities stacked up and in the plural: no matter how grotesque, Perfidia is wistful. Ellroy has transitioned from voyeur to architect; from heckler to team manager. Even the real-life characters feel like guest spots. (How do estate lawyers react to his gleeful smears? Poor old Barbara Stanwyck.)
Perfidia took me a long time to get through, not least of all because it's a pig to balance on the breakfast table. There is even more than usual to unpack in his sentences (ye gods) and the reappearance of characters sent me back to the bookcase. (The edition includes a five page dramatis personae.) The narrative is soothed at intervals by the diary of Kay Lake who writes in the purple style the author enjoys when he is not stapling verbs to nouns. (Remember how he camped it up in Silent Terror?) And there is a midichlorian moment involving Elizabeth Short: a stupid idea. He may or may not make up for this in the next two in the series. I will read them all.
-- Sunday Star Times, October 2014