Sunday 17 March 2024

Blood on the Moon - James Ellroy (1984)


Rating: Mediocre

Most regular readers of this blog would know that I don't read much in the way of crime, but I've long known about James Ellroy, in particular his tragic back-story, with his mother's unsolved murder. I also know that he is an intense guy and this was confirmed when I read about his upbringing, in particular after his mother died, but that's another story. I picked up an omnibus (I've always loved that term...) edition of all three novels in the Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy, his first major series of novels, preceding the L.A. Quartet (1987 - 1992), which includes L.A. Confidential (1990), which was then made into a great movie of the same name. So, a big build-up, but unfortunately I was disappointed. In an introduction to the omnibus written by Ellroy, he talks about reading Red Dragon (1981), the book that helped inspire the Silence of the Lambs (1991) movie (along with the book of the same name), after writing Blood on the Moon and realised that it was far superior. Blood on the Moon is Ellroy's third novel and you can tell that he's learning to write as he's actually writing; it's a transitional piece of writing, and I assume that he improved later, as he is so well regarded.  Here the writing is poor, in that you can see the joins, it's a bit clumsy and ham-fisted. The depictions of character psychology, and this includes the renegade sex-addicted cop, Lloyd Hopkins himself, comes across like a lurid cartoon. Everything is exaggerated into a hyperreal state, including the dialogue and scene descriptions. It became tiresome after a while unfortunately.

What Ellroy does have going for him, at this point at least, is his that his intense personality is shining through. There's something compelling about his style which urges you on and sometimes overcomes the poor writing. The plot moves along at a brisk pace too, although it's sometimes kind of ludicrous. The killer is a florid creation, bordering on the ridiculous. His motivations become apparent in the last third of the book, and are kind of cliched. That Ellroy is conflating Hopkins with the killer (I can't even be bothered looking up or recalling his name), showing that they are not that dissimilar, is handled reasonably well. Thanks to Hopkins Protestant ethics he's been drawn onto the side of 'good', although a highly flawed version. Hopkins dealings with women are cliched as well, the women are initially wary and then are irresistibly drawn to him, they just can't help themselves! Even the feminist poet can't help herself! The depictions of the mean streets of L.A. is also cliched, along with the corrupt drug-using gay cop who gets in the way of Hopkins crusade to find the killer. Fortunately the novel ends quite quickly, with the showdown between Hopkins and killer wrapping up before tedium kicks in. Will I read more Ellroy? I'd say so, I'm still curious and I acknowledge that Blood on the Moon is an early book. I don't think I'll bother with the other two books in the trilogy, Because the Night (1984) and Suicide Hill (1985), but I will try the L.A. Quartet, after all, they've been republished as Everyman Classics, so that should count for something.

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