Author of the week
America’s premier crime novelist might be going soft, said Leo Robson in The Economist’s 1843 magazine. At 71, James Ellroy is still rancorous, but he says he’s “just never been this happy” and claims to be filled with “outrageous goodwill for people.” Though his latest L.A. novel, This Storm, features a monstrous psychopath, the story, he says, offers “the thrill of human beings changing”—a subject he’s come to know firsthand. Long before he wrote The Black Dahlia or L.A. Confidential, Ellroy was battling demons. Just 10 when his mother was raped and murdered in suburban Los Angeles, he responded by developing an obsession with crime books and a habit of acting out. “I’d do anything to get attention,” he says. As a teenager, he attended local Nazi Party meetings, broke into homes. He spent his 20s drinking, popping pills, sleeping in a city park, and racking up arrests. At 30, after an epiphany, he began to write.
That didn’t end his stormy years. Less than a decade ago, he was still hooked on prescription drugs, bombing out of his second marriage—to a woman he worships, and with whom he reunited four years ago. The two now live in Denver, in separate units in the same apartment hall. But to say Ellroy is growing soft is to ignore how much he poured into This Storm, said Larry Kanter in Men’s Journal. A 577-page book and the second work in a planned quartet, it’s set in 1942 in an L.A. overrun with crooked cops, killers, and war fears. Of course Ellroy is happy. “Nobody’s done what I’ve done,” he says. “Nobody’s written books this big. This priapic. This tortured. This nihilistic. This powerful. That’s how I feel.” ■