This Storm by James Ellroy
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
James Ellroy’s noir-mystery novel, This Storm, is set in and around Los Angeles in the early days and months of World War II. It is a time of rainstorms, blackouts, fear, paranoia, murder, suicide, racial unrest, Nazis, fascists, European refugees, Japanese internment camps, police corruption, cover-ups, violence, prostitution, promiscuous sex, and Simons Drive-in, where you can get a fantastic cheeseburger and a pineapple malt served by a floozy carhop.
This Storm is a gargantuan novel, almost 700 pages. If you are familiar with James Ellroy’s writing style, you know he doesn’t write like any other writer. “If you want political correctness, you’ll have to go someplace else,” he plainly states. He uses racial epithets the way other writers use adjectives. In short, there is nobody else quite like him. His style is choppy, with lots of slang expressions, punchy chapters, lots of tough-guy language and hair-trigger violence. We see the bad-boy cops in The Storm kill “suspects” they are pursuing when nobody is looking or pound them in the head with the massive LA phone directory while they are “interrogating” them. The war has unleashed all of men’s (and women’s) worst instincts, it seems. Almost all the characters The Storm are horrible people. Some are worse than others. These people are beyond redemption, but they also make for entertaining reading.
Of all the many dozens of characters in The Storm, you might say that police lieutenant Dudley Smith is the principal character. He is an Irish immigrant who killed many British soldiers in his homeland before coming to America, a “shit-heel,” a self-serving, arrogant, corrupt, lying, cheating bastard with the looks and savoir faire the ladies toss their panties over. In Baja during the war, he’s involved in several nefarious and illegal enterprises, such as “selling” Japanese laborers to the highest bidder. If he was ever called to ground, he could be locked up in prison for many lifetimes for all his transgressions. Nothing seems to touch him, though.
Hideo Ashida is the most interesting character in the novel. He’s a Japanese-American, working as a forensic chemist for the Los Angeles Police Department. As a Japanese man, he is spit at and reviled in the days after Pearl Harbor. He is a homosexual and is believed to be in love with Dudley Smith, flaws and all. They have a special kind of man-to-man friendship, which Hideo knows will never be realized sexually.
There are many other characters, sometimes so many of them that it’s hard to keep them all straight and remember their names; some of them are, by necessity, one-dimensional. Barbara Stanwyck, Ellen Drew, Orson Welles and symphony conductor Otto Klemperer are real-life characters among all the fictional ones. (If these people weren’t all dead, they might have grounds for legal action based on the way they are portrayed here.)
This Storm is a follow-up to the earlier novel Perfidia. These two novels are the first two parts of James Ellroy’s Second LA Quartet. (You remember the First LA Quartet, don’t you?) We will be eagerly awaiting the third novel, which, we presume, will pick up where This Storm leaves off.
Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp