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Blood's A Rover

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture Posted by Joshua Chaplinsky

Blood's A Rover

"Blood's A Rover" by James Ellroy
Joshua Chaplinsky
Here it is, in all its mellifluous and macho-maimed magnificence. Grok its groin-grabbing gravity.

The above quote comes directly from the back cover of the ARC. I figured I’d get the hyperbole out of the way, and who better to sell this gargantua than the Demon Dog himself? The man is his own best critic, and as a reader, I tend to agree with him.

It’s been eight long years since The Cold Six Thousand bludgeoned the face of the literary landscape, and the concluding volume of the Underworld USA Trilogy is finally here. Let me preface my review by saying Mr. Ellroy and myself are in complete agreement on this- it does not disappoint. 

I wanted to prepare myself for Rover by going back and re-reading the first two epic volumes of the trilogy. Eight years is a long time, especially in book years, and I was worried I’d get lost in Ellroy’s parallel historical universe without a refresher as ballast. But a collective 2000 plus pages and my looming deadline put the kibosh on that, so Wikipedia it was. Nevertheless, those new to the scene need not despair. Despite being a threequel, Rover stands on its own, and Ellroy wisely fills in the gaps where necessary.

At almost 650 pages, there is no point in trying to summarize the byzantine chain of events comprising Rover’s complex plot. After a brief prologue involving a daring armored-car heist, the book picks up where The Cold Six Thousand left off- the year 1968. Wayne Tedrow Jr., surviving protagonist of The Cold Six Thousand, is joined by Dwight Holly and newcomer Don Crutchfield, completing Ellroy’s signature triumvirate of flawed badasses. But this is not strictly a boy’s club. Not by a long shot. Enter The Red Goddess Joan, Ellroy’s most realized female creation to date. This mysterious woman permeates the hearts and minds of all three men, influencing events on a global scale over the next four years.

Who exactly is The Red Goddess Joan? In an interview with Sarah Weinman (check out the video HERE,) Ellroy calls Rover- the only work of fiction I’ve ever written that is entirely directed at one human being- the transcendent woman Joan. That woman, who Ellroy brazenly named the character after, must have really done a number on the notorious skirt-chaser. He goes on to say that his reason for doing so is because it didn’t work out and, I quote, because I want to derail her world every time she sees it in a bookstore. Wow.

In spite of this, Ellroy, who has unjustly been branded a misogynist in the past, treats The Red Goddess with much reverence. Her’s is the character that wields all the power, especially over the men of the novel. Ellroy is making no secret of the fact that this woman ruled his world and left him reeling. As an act of revenge, it is not an unflattering portrayal. Just a reminder of the past.

In addition to showing us his softer side, we also get a peak behind the curtain at the great and powerful wizard of Ellroy’s politics. While in his larger-than-life persona, Ellroy espouses all sorts of conservative political views, Rover belies this rhetoric with a subtle criticism of the Right. Despite his claims of living in a vacuum, Rover’s seeming indictment of the infringing of privacy rights by the government could almost be an allegory of Patriot Act America. Almost. But I'm sure he'd deny it.

Stylistically, Rover continues in the tradition of its predecessors, employing short, staccato sentences punctuated with all manner of period specific slang and pejorative epithets. The resulting effect is like a shotgun blast filled with words, rather than buckshot. It takes some getting used to, but once overcome, helps keep the densely plotted novel moving along with urgency.   

My only real complaint would be the familiarity of it all. The middle of the novel, especially, exhibits some paunch, with the resurrection of Tiger Kab and the fixation on the anti-communist cause in Cuba. It feels like a rut, and slows the momentum down. Thankfully, that slowdown doesn’t last very long. Rover picks up steam like a freight train, threatening to derail as it barrels down the tracks towards climax and a confrontation with The Red Goddess. 

I feel like I’m preaching to the choir. Longtime fans know what to expect. Detractors should as well. There aren’t any real surprises here. Expect lazy reviewers to trot out the same tired lines of praise and dissent, which will have little sway on existing opinions. If you have never read Ellroy and are captivated by the aesthetically pleasing green and yellow cover, this is as good a place to start as any. According to Ellroy, this is his masterpiece. They are all masterpieces, so you really can’t go wrong.