Tag Archives: James Ellroy

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

Book review: City of Light

Years ago I read a book called Big Bad Blood by a Sydney crime writer called Dave Warner.

I can’t remember much about it now, except it was set in Sydney’s vice centre, Kings Cross, in the mid-sixties and involved police corruption, organised crime and a series of grisly murders of local prostitutes. It was a dark, gritty read, set in an era I was (and still am) interested in learning more about. I thought it was great.

I didn’t give Warner a second thought until recently, when I discovered his first novel, City of Light.

Turns out, Sydney’s not Warner’s original stomping ground. He moved there from Perth, West Australian in the late nineties, for reasons which perhaps become clear in City of Light.

City of Light came after a colourful career as a front man for a punk rock band (“Australia’s first punk band” according to his website), stand up comic and play write. It won the West Australian Premier’s Award for best fiction in 1996.

The main character of City of Light is Snowy Lane, a young police constable and amateur footballer, working in suburban Perth in the late- seventies, who gets swept up in the investigation into a string of murders of young women by a serial killer dubbed ‘Mr Gruesome’.… Read more

Crime fiction criminals

By definition, the majority of crime fiction characters are criminals or at least commit illegal and/or immoral acts. But books where the main character is a full-time professional criminal are surprisingly few and far between. Here’s a selection of some of the best.

It’s worth noting that when this post originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Lover website, readers came up with several good additions, including Andrew Vachss’s Burke, Charlie Huston’s Henry Thornton, Lawrence Block’s hitman character Keller and Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. I had originally thought of including the James Ellroy character Dudley Smith (“Knock, knock, who’s there, Dudley Smith, so reds beware”), but he’s a bent cop so not eligible. However, Ellroy’s Pete Bondurant would definitely make the cut.

Please leave a comment if you can think of any others.

Parker by Richard Stark (aka Donald Westlake)

The 24 books written between 1962 and 2010 featuring the professional thief known as Parker remain some of the best crime fiction ever written. Sixteen Parker novels appeared between 1962 and 1974. Westlake took a rest from the character until 1997, then wrote another eight Parker books.

Parker is a career criminal who steals things for a living. Get in his way on a job or try to double cross him afterwards and he’ll hurt you.… Read more

Cop: is it the best movie ever made of a James Ellroy novel?

CopI’m going to go way out on a limb here, and say that in my opinion the relatively unknown movie Cop may just be the best adaptation of a James Ellroy book to hit the screen.

When I opened my recent review of the 1988 film Cop for Back Alley Noir’s Film Noir of the Week with that statement the response was interesting.

Some disagreed with the merits of my choice. Others felt the need to refer back to what the man himself, Ellroy, had said about the merits of the movies made of his books.

I did a quick search on what Ellroy has said on the subject before submitting the review. There’s a lot of contradictory quotes out there. Whether this is because he’s changed his mind a lot or he’s out for a headline, well, I’ll let you all be the judge of that.

For me, the debate raised the interesting question of what value we should give to the opinion of an artist in one area (writing), when their work is translated into another (film).

I am a huge Ellroy fan and I think Cop works as a movie precisely because the book is not a dense, labyrinthine crime epic in the vein of LA Confidential and the Black Dahlia (both of which failed, Black Dahlia much more so, in the almost Herculean task of transposing Ellroy’s words onto the screen).… Read more