Perfidia by James Ellroy is a lurid, sprawling juggernaut of a crime novel that pre-dates Ellroy's famed Black Dahlia-L.A. Confidential noir trilogy of Los Angeles in the late 1940s to mid 1950s.
This new novel begins in late 1941, just before the Pearl harbor bombing by Japan. The looming war and anti-Japanese fever serves as a backdrop to a politically hot murder case: the gruesome deaths of a local Japanese family by unknown killers.
Ellroy brings back familiar characters from his earlier L.A. novels. Captain William Parker, a morally ambivalent figure, later to become LAPD Chief. Detective Dudley Smith, the brutal, corrupt leader of an in-house police strong-arm squad. New character Hideo Ashida, a Japanese LAPD criminologist, is torn by internal conflicts as he works the murder case of the Japanese family.
Perfidia portrays an LAPD awash in corruption, dirty politics, and off-the-books cop beat-downs. The police are at their dirtiest during the cruel, indiscriminate roundups of local Japanese-Americans for internment as war breaks out. Captain Parker and Dudley Smith use all of it to pursue their own private agendas within the LAPD, and against each other.
Perfidia is an epic read, written in the author's trademark machine-gun style -- raunchy, driven, at times near-manic. The novel is salted with sleazy Hollywood dirt and scenes of raw, broken-teeth violence.
Crime fiction readers should find this one compelling and sure to be on the Best-of-2014 list.
BEACH RATING: 4 Palm Trees