Saturday, December 1, 2012

Clandestine by James Ellroy

I don’t know about you but I stick to my familiar corner of the bookshop. A book which promised a protagonist whose primary interests were solving crimes and indiscriminately sleeping his way through Los Angeles wasn’t exactly my ‘cup of tea’. 

This is Ellroy's second novel, originally published in 1983, it comes before his more famous novels, such as The Black Dahlia and L A Confidential. It is the story of Fred Underhill a young policeman in Los Angeles trying to further his career. By day he keeps the city safe from crime and at night he prowls for loose women. He looks for “the wonder”, a sense of awe, which he feels when he encounters anything new and unusual: from people, nature, or crime.

What is surprising is the amount of sentimentality bordering on the maudlin at times that the narrative contains. Based partially on the real-life murder of Ellroy’s mother, which to this day remains an unsolved crime, there are elements within Clandestine which hold true to the cliché thriller. A protagonist searching for answers in both his personal and professional life. Yet I think the narrative and interesting use of dialogue which Ellroy employs compensates for the slight clichéd overtones of the novel.

Clandestine has something of a split personality between the hard boiled sections of Underhill's police work and private investigation and the sections of near romanticism where he searches for the miraculous in life and romance. Still, Ellroy is a smart enough storyteller even at this early stage not to let the narrative get too bogged down and builds the final third of the novel to a fast paced conclusion.

I wouldn’t recommend this to someone who is looking for something ‘new’. It’s still very much formulaic and I don’t feel it represents the best crime writing of which Ellroy is clearly capable in his later work. I’m not entirely sure that I have been convinced to give books of this genre a go – the cynic in me will always think that they’re formulaic, and in a way Ellroy doesn’t really prove me wrong. That isn’t to say that it wasn’t a good read, and although there are elements which didn’t necessarily work, you still want to know what happened.

This post was originally posted here, because I write about books as much as I can...probably a bit too much, if I'm honest about it...
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