Ellroy falls farther
Raymond Chandler said Dashiel Hammett "took murder out of the Venetian vase and dropped it into the alley." That's the official noir project. It's all about the fall. In the classic works of Chandler and Hammett, the reader is dropped into the alley and follows a detective through crime and confusion, until everything's solved. The solution comes, "case closed," and Everything is Safe Again. In the end we find the world like we thought it was. We are not the accused. We are reassured by crime fiction.
James Ellroy falls farther. Taking historical-political crime, he drops the reader into the alley. The descent hasn't reached bottom until we're in the underworld, following Ellroy's guides into the despicable depths, knowing these men are going to end up alcoholics, aching, alone with acidic secrets. We don't stop until we surrender—acknowledging our own corruption, condemning ourselves.
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'The big scream': Sin, salvation, and Ellroy's 'Underworld' trilogy