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Posted: September 18, 2022

A consummate novel that highlights excesses of the 1960s

Book Review

By Derryll White

Ellroy, James (1995).  American Tabloid.

“I can’t believe you place common hoodlums in the same league as a political system that has enslaved half the world.  I can’t believe that you could be hoodwinked by a fatuous liberal politician whose father intends to buy him the presidency.”         — James Ellroy.

A friend gave me this to read, not believing that I had never read James Ellroy. Now I cannot believe it myself as I have read long and deep in the mystery/suspense genre from Raymond Chandler to Henning Mankell, Patricia Cornwell and Michael Dibdin.

Ellroy is a master, with a distinctive, staccato way of writing.  I have always been a bit of a political junky, so the cast of characters in ‘American Tabloid’ – J. Edgar Hoover, Howard Hughes, the Kennedys (Joe, Jack and Bobby), Fidel Castro, Jimmy Hoffa – really excites me.  This book reminds me of Don DeLillo’s ‘Libra,’ a masterful work on the assassination of JFK.

Ellroy drives the action with insane erratic language that keeps the reader absolutely riveted.  He reminds me of Hunter S. Thompson, inextricably wrapped into an unfolding story which you know will end badly. Pimps, whores, politicians, gangsters and madmen all compete for room on pages that keep pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the sickness of America in the ‘60s.

I was disappointed with the fact that the Cuban missile crisis doesn’t exist in a book that so prominently features John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro.  That said, Ellroy has written a consummate novel that highlights the excesses of the 1960s.  The rhythm and language just cannot be denied.  I am already looking for the second novel in this trilogy.


Excerpts from the novel:

JFK – He pimped for the maybe future President.  Jack went through his little black book and sideswiped a hundred women inside six months.  Sally Lefferts called Jack a de facto rapist – “He backs you into a corner and charms you until you’re plain bushed.  He convinces you that turning him down would make you just about the most worthless female who ever  lived.”

BAY OF PIGS – They saw beached landing craft.  They saw live men climbing over dead men.  They saw a hundred-yard stretch of bodies in bright-red shallow water.

The invaders kept coming.  Flamethrowers nailed them the second they hit the wave break.  They got flash-fried and boiled alive.

Fifty-odd rebels were shackled facedown in the sand.  A Commie with a chainsaw was running across their backs.

Pete saw the blade drag.  Pete saw the blood gout.  Pete saw their heads roll into the water.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at




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