Monday, July 20, 2009

LA Confidential (the novel)

Don’t expect either a Dashiell Hammett rerun or anything like the movie when you decide to read Elroy’s tome. 

The stream of consciousness is a bit hard to follow (not knowing whose stream it is until the narrative identifies the POV) but the language is exactly right for the story. The dialog is cop-speak and is also right for the story that takes place in 1953-58 with a returning explanatory sequence in the 1930s that is unclear until the end of the novel.

If you’ve seen the movie be prepared to understand that it was a highly sanitized version of the story. Elroy revels in the most degrading, disgusting and violent aspects of the lowlife he uses for the story’s setting. You’ll also note that the characters shift from the film to something more in tune with everybody having flaws as well as golden moments. 

Elroy uses very short chapters to move the story along and it does move along although his plot is so complicated that it takes all of the 495 pages (paperback) to bring it to a conclusion. 

Would I read any more of Elroy’s stories? Probably not. Just not my cup of tea.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Irregulars

Was Roald Dahl really a spy? That’s the question this book attempts to answer. Most of us know Mr. Dahl as the author of children’s books (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, etc.) but after he was injured in a crash as a fighter pilot in World War II he was sent to Washington to complete his recuperation. There he immediately swept into the swirl of social activities with his bon vivant attitude. Though the British spy network that was operating in Washington (to the immense displeasure of J. Edgar Hoover) didn’t want to integrate Mr. Dahl into its fold they realized that his cachet with the political crowd and their backers could be invaluable in getting a sense of where the US was heading relative to Britain’s desperate need of an ally in the war against Nazism.

Not only was Dahl encouraged to glean as much gossip as possible but he was also encouraged to bed as many of the potential gossipers as he could. Initially his sexual prowess was tested to the limit but when that limit was reached he expressed his sexual fatigue. Nevertheless he was virtually ordered to continue with his conquests.

The upshot of his social arrangements was that he became virtually the protégé of Mr. Marsh, a Texas king maker who was very wealthy. As Dahl continued to extract gossipy pillow talk he also found that his circle of political friends grew to include Mr. and Mrs. Roosevelt as well as an up and coming politician from Texas, Lyndon Johnson.

The Marsh’s marriage was more or less one of convenience which gave LBJ the opening that his hormones demanded and he began an affair with Mrs. Marsh that lasted until he decided not to run for his second term as president.

As Dahl dealt with the peccadilloes of representatives and senators he also began to write—short stories that were based on both the factual experienced he’d had as a pilot and his imagination as to what made them more interesting. C.S. Forester (of Horatio Hornblower fame) read one of Dahl’s stories and was impressed enough to recommend the story to a magazine that published it. After that Dahl continued to write more war stories as he was continuing to glean bits and pieces of political gossip.

After the war ended Dahl was at loose ends. War stories were passé and he needed some kind of an income. Marsh came to his rescue providing a stipend that allowed him to return to England where he rejoined his female dominated family.

During the ensuing years, Dahl married Patricia Neal, had children with her and then after her stroke and semi-recovery decided to abandon her for a younger woman (this after 30 years of marriage).

Dahl was finally able to make his own way with the books that we are familiar with. He continued to write and hope that he would receive a knighthood for his contribution to Britain’s coffers and reputation but that never happened.