There is a quality in James Ellroy’s fiction that evades analysis and exceeds his popular status as a successful author in the ‘crime genre’. This quality is in part connected to his demanding narratives, which inevitably leave one with the nagging feeling that there is a great deal one has failed to understand, and which prompt (often multiple) re-readings of his novels; but it is also connected to his stylistic and structural development, an aspect of his work that is generally ignored.
Ellroy’s reputation as a ‘noir’ stylist is well established, mainly on the basis of his vaunted LA Quartet of novels, published between 1987 and 1993. Since then, Ellroy has completed the Underworld USA trilogy, an epic cycle of historical crime novels that has driven his stylistic development far beyond the humble literary ambitions those early works represented. These later titles, American Tabloid (1995), The Cold Six Thousand (2001), and Blood’s a Rover (2009), are rich, complex, and sometimes confounding novels that give a sense that Ellroy is a writer altogether too singular, and perhaps even too intelligent, to really be successful within the framework of any genre.