Book Review: This Storm by James Ellroy
By Weston OchseJune 3, 2019
This Storm by James Ellroy is a massive novel of World War II Los Angeles—when torrential rainstorms hit the city, a body is unearthed in Griffith Park. The cops rate it a routine dead-man job. They’re grievously wrong.
I’ve been reading the Demon Dog of American Literature since I stumbled across The Black Dahlia in 1987. Stuck in the American Midwest, James Ellroy offered me a view of 1940s Los Angeles that was immediately etched into my psyche. So, when, years later, I went to live in Los Angeles and began rediscovering the places he described in Dahlia, L.A. Confidential, and The Big Nowhere, I felt oddly at home. I rediscovered not just the physical Los Angeles, but the smutty beautiful dolled up harlot with big dreams and an even longer memory Los Angeles. These three books along with White Jazz make up the first L.A. Quartet of books.
Now, with This Storm, comes the second book of the second L.A. Quartet. Separated by little more than 30 years from The Black Dahlia, Ellroy’s hyper-realistic, signature, profane-laced, police patois and jazz slang is in full Ultra HD 4K surround sound effect. Reading the prose from This Storm, I can see the rain falling, hear the rapid-fire back and forth of two cops on a stakeout, and smell their boozy coffee cigarette-smoked clothes. Ellroy’s writing style is completely his own, yet in it is a memory of what it used to be like in an L.A. without cell phones and therapists and superheroes busking out front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
The L.A. of This Storm is America trying to come to terms with herself right after Pearl Harbor. Anti-Japanese mania has almost supplanted antisemitism. Communists are on every street corner. War profiteering is in full swing. The police department is populated by corrupt, self-serving, cops who could be villains if they weren’t on the other side of the badge. Rapists run. Starlets spread their goods. And at the center of it all is as unlikely of a hero if there ever was, Japanese-American police investigator Hideo Ashida.
Words like machine gun rounds fired by a mad genius line up on every page. This from the very first page of This Storm sets the tone:
Stakeout. It’s a sit-and-wait job. Some hot-prowl burgler/rape-o’s creeping. He’s Tommy Glannon, recent Quentin grad. He’s notched five 459/sodomies since Pearl Harbor. Happy fucking New yea. Three-man stakeout. Two parked cars. 24th and Normandie. Sit and wait. Endure bugs-up-your-ass ennui. The rain. Plus war-blackout regulations. Drawn shades, doused streetlamps. Bum visibility.
Ellroy has become America’s historian of our dark underbelly and a navigator of the dark shadows of her soul. The cast of This Storm is diverse and monumental. From dope fiends to Mexican fascists, exiled Hungarian musicians, scandal-mongers, hoodlums, psycho killers, fifth column traitors, morally dubious priests, to actors and actresses, This Storm is a Yellow Pages of L.A.’s good, bad, and ugly.
Ellroy his own bad self extolls readers to try his new book on his webpage with the same style he uses when doing bad things to badder people.
This Storm picks up my noxious narrative of wartime L.A. on New Year’s Eve—’41 into ’42. Baaaaaaaaad juju is jumping in my smog-smacked fatherland—and YOU will have a fractiously fragged front-row seat!!!!! This Storm is chock-full of my trippingly trenchant crime shit, political shit, racial shit, cop shit, sex shit, and passionate men and women in love shit!!! It’s gonna bite the boogaloos of worldwide readers, en masse!!!!! And, that’s just half of the staggering story!!!!!
This Storm isn’t the tale of one person. It’s the tale of everyone and how America had to come to terms with herself, slouching along the moral high ground even as she bussed Japanese-Americans into internment camps. Reading This Storm won’t make you a proud American, but reading it will make you realize what it was like behind all the glitz and glamour when Los Angeles was trying to decide who she wanted to be in a time when America didn’t really know who she was anymore.