Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review of Because the Night by James Ellroy (1984, Mysterious Press)

As a child, John Havilland decided that we was going to become a high flying psychiatrist.  After graduating from Harvard and working with the criminally insane, he moved to LA, setting up a practice.  He specializes in preying on vulnerable individuals then using them to source money, drugs, information, and commit violent acts.  When one of his charges commits a liquor store heist, murdering three people with an ancient pistol, Detective Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins is assigned to the case.  Hopkins is fabled as a clever, rogue cop who regularly breaks the rules to achieve results.  One of his other cases involves trying to locate a missing vice cop.  Hopkins spots a connection between the two cases and is soon playing a deadly cat and mouse game with Havilland and his band of disciples.

Because the Night is the second book in the Lloyd Hopkins trilogy.  As with other Ellroy novels the narrative is infused with a dark, vivid intensity, each scene either full of tension or eruptions of graphic violence and populated by strongly defined characters.  The style makes for a gripping read, but it this case was off-set by a story line that felt it belonged more in Marvel comic book than police procedural -- mad psychiatrist super-villain versus rogue super-cop.  Both cop and villain play loose and fast with other peoples’ lives and both assume that they’ll ultimately triumph and will be able to continue on with their activities despite the fall-out from their tussles.  The result was a tale that was vividly told, but that at no time felt credible.  Nonetheless, the tale is an engagingly told noir police procedural.

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