James Ellroy

This Storm

"The magnitude of the crimes contained within its pages embrace the true life..."


January 1942 and the American New Year is seen in by torrential storms. They catch newly recruited Naval Lieutenant Joan Conville, driving from a Stan Kenton gig in San Diego to her training camp in Los Angeles under the influence of a dozen highballs, and whirling her into the front of a car on Venice Boulevard. When she comes round unharmed, but having totaled the occupants of the other vehicle, the former nurse finds herself transferred from Naval duties into the Los Angeles Police Department, courtesy of Captain William H Parker, to work in the pathology lab with forensics wizard Hideo Ashida. At the same time, the maelstrom unearths a body in Griffiths Park, where Vice detective – and practitioner – Elmer Jackson's bandit brother Wayne Frank was last seen alive in October 1933, on the night of a fatal conflagration. The rain pours into the opium-fueled dreams of Dudley Smith, seconded from the LAPD into Army Intelligence and newly posted to Baja in Mexico, where he will soon be designing rackets, communing with his wolf spirit guide and lusting after Nazi gold. And it bounces in jazz time off the roof of City Hall, where Count Basie is counting in the New Year for all the LAPD and Hollywood glitterati – and watchful diary-keeper Kay Lake has her eye on everything and everyone…

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So 'This Storm' picks off where 'Perfidia', Ellroy's return to his native Los Angeles for the second part of a new, WWII-set series left off. The central enigma of that book was the slaying of the Japanese-American Wantabe family on the eve of Pearl Harbour that was made to look like ritual suicide. Ashida and Smith colluded on framing a man for that murder, Fuijo Shudo, aka the Werewolf, still languishing in his cell on New Year's Eve as this book begins, watched over by the compromised young chemist who helped to put him there. The theme of the two books remains the same – the corruption opportunities provided by the War and the subsequent blackout of the souls of all here involved. Like its predecessor, this is a hefty tome – almost the same size as the original 'LA Quartet' in its entirety. The magnitude of the crimes contained within its pages embrace the true life, unsolved Griffiths Park fire; a stolen batch of gold, the nefarious activities of Orson Welles (whom Ellroy clearly despises) and ultimately, a clandestine collaboration between Hard Left and Hard Right factions to divide and conquer the world. A suitably damning indictment of America which, despite the author's protestations that it has nothing in common with the current febrile political climate, does nonetheless invite parallels. The title comes from a WH Auden poem, so perhaps it's only coincidence that Donald Trump likes to describe himself as: “The Storm” – but unholy alliances are the concurrent themes of this demonic deluge and the serving President's reign.

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