Category Archives: James Ellroy

Mid-summer reading report back: Perfidia, Japanese tattoos, eighties sleaze

Perfidia

Summer in Melbourne is usually the one time of the year I can be guaranteed to get a fair amount of personal reading done. As has become my annual practice, a short report back on the books I have got through is in order.

Perfidia, James Ellroy

I need to preface my comments on Perfidia by stressing I am a massive Ellroy fan. I have read all of his books – ALL of them – many more than once. I even liked The Cold Six Thousand and Blood’s A Rover, the two books that most divided readers. So, it is with a heavy heart that I say Perfidia is very disappointing. The long awaited prelude to Ellroy’s LA Quintet, Perfidia takes place in Los Angeles over 23 days in December 1941, a period in which American went from being at piece to the attack on Pearl Harbour and the country being at war.

The focal point of the book is the brutal murder on the eve of Pearl Harbour of a Japanese family. The killings have all the hallmarks of traditional Japanese ritual deaths. Drawn into the murder investigation are future LAPD chief William H Parker, the meanest crime fiction cop ever created, Dudley Smith, a brilliant young Japanese police forensic scientist, and Kay Lake, a woman with a major thing for bad men.… Read more

The books that hooked me on crime fiction

The Neon rainDo you remember what books got you into crime fiction?

When it all comes down to it, I have to credit my late father. Dad loved writers like Carter Brown, Mickey Spillane and Ian Fleming. He passed on his readings tastes to me, particularly his love of dark, pulp influenced crime fiction.

Here are the five books that began my love affair with crime fiction.

What are yours?

James_Bond_from_russia_with_love_1959From Russia With Love – Ian Fleming I still have my father’s collection of James Bond novels published by Pan Books in the late fifties and sixties, which I saved from my mother’s frequent op shop culls. Published in 1957, From Russia With Love was the fifth Bond book but the first one I read.

It involves a complex plot by Soviet counter intelligence, SMERSH, to kill Bond and discredit British intelligence, using a beautiful Russian cipher clerk and a secret decoding machine as bait. Lashings of action and intrigue, evocative settings such as Istanbul and the Orient Express, characters including the SMERSH executioner, ‘Red Grant’, and the diabolical Colonel Rosa Klebb.

I can still remember reading this in my late teens and my mind going whoooosh with the possibilities.

The Neon Rain – James Lee Burke The Neon Rain was another of my father’s books.… Read more

The death of a bookshop: a tribute to Melbourne’s Kill City Books

KC 4

I love poking around in second-hand bookshops. The more disorganised and dishevelled, the better. I can’t remember the last time I found one with a curtained off section where they stashed the adult stuff, the pulp fiction and true crime, but those ones were best of all.

It’s always sad to hear about the closure of a second handbook shop and they’ve been closing with alarming frequency in Melbourne over the last few years.

The latest casualty is Flinders Books, which had operated out of the basement at 119 Swanston Street, for 18 years. Before that it had reportedly been a trading card shop, and going back even further, a rest and recreation area for military personnel after World War II.

Basement Books, located at 342 Flinders Street is, as far as I know, the last second-hand bookshop in the Melbourne CBD.

The reasons behind the closure are nothing new: changing book buying habits, including the rise of e-books, coupled with a massive rent increase, all of which, according to the owner, made the business impossible to sustain at its current location.

As if the end of a good second-hand bookstore is not sad enough, the passing of Flinders Books has a wider historical significance. For the last eight years of its existence it also hosted the remnants of Kill City Books, once Melbourne’s premier bookshop specialising in crime fiction and true crime.… Read more

Summer reading report back 2013

As the summer holiday’s draw to an end and the business part of 2013 kicks off, it’s time for a little run down of what I’ve read over the Christmas/New Year period and how I’m going to approach my reading in the year ahead.

fc3I’ve seen the 1972 movie Fat City, directed by John Huston, many times but never read the 1969 book of the same name by Leonard Gardner. It was hands down my read of the summer. Indeed, I’ll go as far as saying it’s one of the most beautifully written novels I can remember reading in a while.

Set in the fifties, Fat City is the story of two amateur boxers, Ernie Munger and Billy Tully. Tully is the older of the two, a former fighter who wants another shot at the big time. The fact he’s an alcoholic means he’s got no chance. Munger is a young man with potential, but you know from the first time we meet him, he’s not going to amount to much. The book follows the hopes, dreams and most of all, anxieties of these two men through a series of bars, flop houses and dead end jobs. As I said, there’s never any doubt the two won’t amount to much, the question is just how far they’ll slide.… Read more

Melbourne International Film Festival progress report part 2: Rampart, Gangs of Wasseypur

This week I caught two of my must see crime films at the Melbourne International Film Festival, Rampart (2010) and Anupama Copra’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012).

Rampart is latest in a long line of movies that combine two of crime cinema’s great thematic strands, bad cops and the idea that policing is little more than military occupation. Training Day (2001), Colors (1988), Q&A (1990), Copland (1997) Narc (2002), Cop (1988) and television series like The Shield are just a few examples of this genre. But if you thought Vic Mackey was bad, he’s got nothing on Dave ‘Date Rape’ Brown (played Woody Harrelson).

Rampart was directed by Oren Moverman who did the 2009 movie, The Messenger, a hard hitting story about two US marines whose job is to deliver death notices to the loved ones of US service men and women killed in action. Moverman collaborated on the Rampart script with crime writer James Ellroy.

The late 1990s, the Rampart Division of the LAPD is already investigation for fabricating evidence, police brutality and a string of other offences. Into this shit storm walks Brown, a 24-year veteran of the force. While on patrol his car is involved a collision. Brown chases down the other driver and savagely beats him. It’s routine brutality on Brown’s part, except this time, unknown to him, someone has filmed it.… Read more