BLOOD’S A ROVER by James Ellroy (2009)

reviewed by Mike Dennis

As every fan of James Ellroy knows by now, the third and final installment of his Underworld USA Trilogy is now available.  Through its 640 pages, Blood’s A Rover is a rollercoaster wrap-up of Ellroy’s hellish vision of America in the sixties, seen through the eyes of three principal characters.

1. Wayne Tedrow, former Las Vegas cop and heroin dealer, whose father had intimate knowledge of the JFK assassination plot. Now working with the mob to open casinos in the Dominican Republic.

2. Dwight Holly, previously engineered the Martin Luther King assassination while setting up James Earl Ray as the fall guy (all at the behest of J Edgar Hoover). Now turns his attention to disrupting West Coast black militant groups.

3. Don Crutchfield, LA private investigator with a fondness for peeping through windows at night. Lands a job finding a woman who stole money from his client.  Through this, he’s drawn in to a dizzying array of political intrigue, hate-group conspiracies, and Mafia dreams for the future.

At the center of Blood’s A Rover is the shadowy leftist Joan Klein, known as the Red Goddess, along with a mysterious cache of emeralds stolen from an armored truck years earlier.  All three of the principal characters eventually become obsessed with finding Joan, and the book seems to take a subtle turn once she walks into the story, as she slowly becomes the focus of the novel.

Ellroy has expanded his vision well beyond Los Angeles, taking the reader across America from black militant storefronts in LA to Howard Hughes’ Las Vegas hotel suite all the way to the Oval Office.  He spends a good deal of time deep in the Dominican Republic and Haiti, where voodoo potions are the order of the day.

The many, many characters, who appear and disappear with blinding speed, are given to similar-sounding voices, so it’s not always easy to tell who’s speaking.  Their collective voices are, in fact, Ellroy’s own voice, giving him a personal stake in the proceedings.  This is one of the reasons that Ellroy is a tough read.  You have to accept the fact that he resides, to one degree or another, in all of his characters.

The trilogy, spanning from 1958-1972, is a sweeping look at the ugly underbelly of America during that turbulent period, at the precise point where byzantine political plots, racial paranoia, and organized crime collide.  He has said that one could read Blood’s A Rover and glean from its opening the back story of the first two books.  I wouldn’t recommend it.  American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand are necessary steps to arriving at this fitting finish to a cold-blooded epic story.

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3 Responses to REVIEW: “BLOOD’S A ROVER”

  1. I read everything Ellroy puts out and will BLOOD’S A ROVER too. Top review. Thanks.

  2. Good review. I read BLOOD’S A ROVER last fall and loved it, and I didn’t care for THE COLD SIX THOUSAND at all. I haven’t read AMERICAN TABLOID yet, but I will.

  3. Grab AMERICAN TABLOID, Dana. It’s Ellroy’s best, IMHO. Read that one before BLOOD.

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