Book nineteen: White Jazz by James Ellroy

White Jazz is the fourth book in James Ellroy's Los Angeles quartet, which includes LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia. I haven't read the others but although they have some characters in common, I don't think they have to be read in sequence. The plot centres on Lieutenant Dave Klein, a corrupt cop who moonlights as a mob killer and a slum landlord. He's investigating a break-in at the home of the family who, with police collusion, control much of LA's drug operation. An FBI probe into mob activity and police corruption leaves him exposed on two fronts, especially when the mob ask him to kill a federal witness.

On top of that he has a side job investigating an actress for Howard Hughes, the film producer, aviator and industrialist.

Describing White Jazz on the book's jacket, Ian Rankin says Ellroy "essentially invents a language. I think the book is crime fiction's Ulysses". He's not kidding about the language. Klein's thoughts form the book's narrative and, like most real people but unlike most fictional characters, he doesn't think in sentences. It reads like somebody's notes:

"Pinker labbed the dogs. The print guys got smudges, partials. The crowd dwindled; blues canvassed. Junior logged reports: nothing hot that night, archetypal Kafesjian rebop."

It's like that all the way through. It's a distinctive voice, though jarring at first. By the end you get into the rhythm and it becomes possible to read it quite quickly but I spent much of the first half of the novel going back over things to try to work out what was going on.

Deciphering the plot would be a difficult enough task even without the tricky narrative style. The novel's different strands intersect and entwine in a baffling fashion as the story develops. Amazingly, it all seems to make some kind of sense by the end.

It's a brutal book but an entertaining one. A fine example of dark American crime fiction.