James Ellroy returns with the second chapter in his Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy, this one picking up moments after 1995’s American Tabloid. This time around, Ellroy treats us to an even more diverse cast of characters who lie, cheat, maim, and shoot their way through history, and pray they’ll live through it all.
Six Thousand’s plot is just as far-reaching as its predecessor. You’ve got Ward Littell and Frenchman Pete trying to contain the fallout from the Kennedy hit before heading to Vegas to pave the way for Howard Hughes’ casino buyout. You’ve got the Vietnam War and the heroin trade. You’ve got J. Edgar Hoover trying to discredit Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. In the middle of all of this, we’re introduced to newcomer Wayne Tedrow Jr, a Nevada Mormon and one of the last good cops in the Las Vegas PD.
If you read American Tabloid and are wondering what to expect in Part 2, think “BIGGER.” In an interview with salon.com, Ellroy vowed that The Cold Six Thousand would be “denser, more complex, more multilayered, more multiplotted, richer, darker, more stylized, dare I say it, more profound.” And would you believe he pulled it off? You can’ be considered one of the world’s greatest living novelists without writing the books to back it up.
Not only are the characters and settings bigger, so are the stakes. In American Tabloid, the characters were, to a large degree, serving their own self-interests. This time, they’re searching for redemption. Ward Littell, as he secretly helps the civil rights leaders he’s been charged to discredit. Pete Bondurant, in the form of his wife, Barbara. The result is a book that, while grittier and more violent than its predecessor, is at the same time much more elegant and touching.
For those who couldn’t handle Ellroy’s clipped prose in American Tabloid, you’re not going to fare any better here. If anything, this book is tighter and more clipped than the last. My advice would be to stick with it. It has a way of sucking you into the narrative in a way other books can’t. For example…
He saw Pete. He seized up. He freaked. He dropped his dick pens. He bent loooow and scooped up. His pants ripped. Dig those plaid BVDs.
Pete aimed off the beam. Pete squeezed a shot. Jack’s head snapped. Jack’s teeth exploded. The silencer worked–sounds like a cough and a sneeze. Pete nailed Jack’s wig. Blood and synthetic hair/a cough and a sneeze.
For reasons I won’t go into here (buy the books already!), there’s a big yield sign at the end of Six Thousand. For better or worse, these characters are heading toward their end. Final word. This book is powerful. In many ways, it’s more powerful than American Tabloid. At times it’s tragic. At times it’s laugh-out-loud funny. There were times when I was so shocked by what had happened I had to put the book down. It’s rare thing and we don’t see it enough in modern literature. The Cold Six Thousand takes you from 0 to 60, and quick. Buy this book.
We’ll soon post our review of the third and final chapter in Ellroy’s trilogy, Blood’s a Rover. Until then, check out The Cold Six Thousand on amazon.