JAMES ELLROY – Brown’s Requiem. Avon 78741, paperback original, 1981, $2.50.

JAMES ELLROY Brown's Requiem

   It took me a while to track this book down — Avon’s distribution system did not seem to reach the Northeast too effectively for a while last fall — but I’m glad I finally did. In recent months Avon has been doing some of the best mysteries to be published in paperback, particularly in the realm of first edition originals, and this is one of them.

   I’m almost tempted to say it’s also a private eye story for people who hate private eye stories, but there are also some people whom I’m sure would rather die than admit to liking the things, even if they did, and so I won’t.

   Fritz Brown is the P.I., and his client is a crazy caddy named Fat Dog who flashes hundred-dollar bills and wants Brown to keep an eye on his sister, an aspiring cello player living with an elderly Jew named Kupferman who is now in the fur business.

   In a way, the whole book is just as slightly looney as this may sound, which is part of its cockeyed charm. What is meant for dialogue often consists of long, one-sided monologues, and if you let it it could easily drive you nuts. Ellroy’s version of Los Angeles is a sad, seedy one, described by someone who knows, brightened only by the green oases of its many available golf courses.

   Brown’s life story, a lonely one, whether he admits it or not, naturally becomes interwoven with the one he gradually unravels and inexorably ties back together. Like a “literary” novel of more recognizable form, bits of philosophy and the deeper implication of things like the perquisites of power and the demands of those who pursue it, are integral ingredients of the story Ellroy tells, and he takes the time and space to tell it well.

   What I find strange, however, is how much more I seem to be appreciating the book now — two weeks later- than I remember that I did while I was actually reading it. I don’t want to push the musical comparison too greatly, but the fact remains — profane as it may seem at times, this book sings.

Rating:   A minus.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier,
       Vol. 6, No. 3, May-June 1982.

[UPDATE] 10-27-13.   This was Ellroy’s first book, and while you can pay to $300 for a unsigned copy in nice shape, you can also find others in VG condition for $15. (It is hard to tell, though, on the less pricey ones. Booksellers on ABE no longer are very good in providing bibliographic details.) Nonetheless, I am wondering if perhaps I should have purchased as many copies as I could have, back when the book first came out.