Today in Literary History – March 5, 1948 -American crime writer James Ellroy is born

James Ellroy, perhaps America’s greatest living crime fiction writer, was born in Los Angeles on March 5, 1948 as Lee Earle Ellroy.

Ellroy’s life had inauspicious beginnings. His mother was raped and murdered when he was ten years old. In his twenties he was often homeless, addicted to drugs and alcohol. He was arrested more than 30 times for robbery and other offences and served stints in jail.

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When he started writing, in his early thirties, he chose to focus on what he was most familiar with, violence and senseless crimes.

After six novels that gathered him a cult following but no commercial success, Ellroy broke out with the L.A. Quartet — The Black Dahlia (1987), The Big Nowhere (1988), L.A. Confidential (1990), and White Jazz (1992) — in which Ellroy uses staccato sentences, hipster slang and ultraviolent images to infuse his narratives of crime and corruption with power and persuasive believability.

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His Underworld USA Trilogy — American Tabloid (1995), The Cold Six Thousand (2001), Blood’s a Rover (2009) — depicts a paranoid version of American politics, starting in the years leading up to and after John Kennedy’s assassination.

Perhaps his least hyperbolic and most intimate book is his 1996 memoir My Dark Places, which both describes his attempts as an adult to find clues to his mother’s still unsolved murder (with the help of hired detectives) and an examination of how her murder led to his fascination with violent crimes.

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Ellroy’s persona in interviews is profane, addicted to conspiracy theories, and comically self-aggrandizing. I am a huge fan of  Ellroy’s writing but I can’t bear his public bombast.

“I don’t justify my persona,” he has said, “It’s about 5% of who I am.”

Ellroy himself says he’s a Christian believer who chooses – despite his wealth — to live in a one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles where he spends his time alone writing and listening to jazz CDs on a cheap stereo.

If true, good for him.

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