Friday, January 13, 2006

Earlier this week I finished American Tabloid by James Ellroy. It takes place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the build up to and the administration of JFK. The three main characters' fortunes rise and fall and each ends up intricately involved with the FBI, the CIA, the mob, the Kennedy family, and Howard Hughes. The web of details was fascinating and complex, not to mention dangerous and bloody. When the book starts out Kemper Boyd and Ward Littell are FBI agents and former partners. Years ago they arrested Pete Bondurant, the third main character and former Los Angeles police officer who now works procuring dope for Hughes and as a executioner for Jimmy Hoffa, who is being investigated by Robert Kennedy, who hires Boyd, who has been sent undercover by J. Edgar Hoover to keep tabs on the Kennedys, and who gets secret reports from Liddell, who is supposed to be keeping tabs on Communists, but who is instead obsessed with the mob and with finding the secret Teamster's pension fund books that link organized crime with the union. And it only gets more complex when Castro takes over in Cuba and JFK wins the election. The book is ultimately about Ellroy's speculation about who killed JFK and why and he makes an interesting case. As with all the other Ellroy books I've read, the nominal heroes of the book are deeply flawed men who commit horrible crimes, and even the Kennedys are given the Ellroy treatment and are presented as a lightweight skirt chaser (JFK) and an intractable ideologue (RFK). Clearly Ellroy is not a fan of the Kennedy clan. I wish he'd spared them a little sympathy to make them more rounded characters, but all that is reserved for his three heroes who find themselves the pawns of much more powerful men.

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