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Book Review: Blood’s a Rover

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In 1997 I was a fan of writer James Ellroy. I discovered him thanks to comic writer   James Robinson who recommended Ellroy in the letter column of his late, great private eye comic “Firearm.” So I knew of Ellroy and liked his work, but had little idea that he was going to write one of my favorite books of all time “American Tabloid.” When I read “Tabloid” I devoured it. It was the powerful tale of three men who were both lawmen and lawbreakers depending on your point of view and their circumstances and the parts they played in some of the pivotal events in American history. “Tabloid” began in the late ’50s and ended in 1963 on a fateful November day in Dallas. It was a great book and I still love it to this days

So several years later I eagerly picked up “The Cold Six Thousand”, the sequel to Tabloid. “Six Thousand” picked up the day after the JFK assassination and followed the exploits of the survivors of “Tabloid” as well as a few new characters. The story ran all the way up to 1968 and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F Kennedy. “Six Thousand” proved to also be a hell of a book. It’s not as good as Tabloid, but still pretty great.

So I was very excited to pick up Ellroy’s latest novel “Blood’s a Rover” the third and final volume to his Underworld USA trilogy, which kicked off with “Tabloid”. I finished the book today and I’m happy to report that it’s a pretty compelling and fascinating read. It’s not as great as “Tabloid” but it is better than “Six Thousand”

“Blood’s a Rover” takes place from 1968 to 1972 and follows the exploits of three men: Wayne Tedrow Jr., a former cop turned bagman for the Mob and Howard Hughes; Dwight Holly an F.B.I. agent and personal enforcer of director J. Edgar Hoover; and Donald Crutchfield a low level private eye whose also a master peeping tom.

All three men are very interesting characters. They’re all well rounded and have their noble traits as well as their ugly sides. And boy do they indulge in their ugly sides! Like all great crime fiction though these characters’ moralities are not fixed; they’re fluid. At different times during the epic length novel you will love and hate all three men. Ultimately “Blood’s a Rover” is really the story of one of them, but I won’t spoil things by saying which one.

Over the course of the novel Tedrow, Holly, and Crutfield find themselves confronting the prevailing hardcore right wing and left wing ideologies of the time through their associations with organized crime and political figures like Hoover and Nixon, as well as the femme fatale of the story Joan.

Each character becomes fascinated and obsessed with Joan and to Ellroy’s credit you can understand their fascination. She’s a shadowy communist agitator, rebel, and some times terrorist. She’s ruthless and determined, but she’s also quite human and haunted by many of the horrible things she’s seen and endured.

Joan isn’ the only thing the three characters become invested in. They also end up obsessed with a mysterious armored car heist that happened in 1964. As the plot progresses more about the heist is revealed and you see it has roots in a larger story.

Ellroy also populates “Blood’s a Rover” with fascinating supporting characters as well. There’s Karen Sifakis, Dwight Holly’s secret left wing girlfriend. She ‘s a revolutionary who feeds him intel on violent people in the “Red” movement and he lets her blow up a landmark or two. Then there’s Marshall Bowen an LA cop who is both cunning and duplicitous. And Scotty Bennett, a psychopathic LA cop with a penchant for shooting armed robbers.

While there’s a lot to love about “Blood’s a Rover” it’s not a perfect book. It’s about 635 pages and there were times when the pacing slowed down. And there were other times where you found yourself wishing you were spending your time with a different character than the one that was being focused on.

Ultimately though, “Blood’s a Rover” was a powerful and satisfying read. If wading through the blood soaked morally murky waters of history is your idea of fun (and it is mine) you’ll love “Blood’s a Rover” and really all three books in Ellroy’s Underworld USA trilogy.

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