January 03, 2006
The Cold Six Thousand by James Ellroy
Rapid-fire, staccato writing, each sentence barely a few words long. Possibly the most original, least pandering, crime-fiction novel I've ever read. You have to meet James Ellroy more than half-way on this one, it takes quite an effort to make it through the first 100 pages or so, after which you get somewhat used to the disorienting feeling of reading this kind of prose.
Oswald stepped out. Oswald wore handcuffs. Two cops flanked him. They walked through the basement. They faced some reporters. They cleared a path fast.
A man jumped out. Dark suit / fedora. Right arm outstretched. He stepped up. He shot near point-blank.
Wayne blinked. Wayne saw it -- oh fuck.
Oswald doubled up. Oswald went "Oooh."
The cops blinked. They saw it -- oh fuck.
Commotion. Dogpile. The gunman's down. He's prone. He's disarmed. He's pinned flat.
The story is one that James Ellroy has visited before in "American Tabloid" -- it begins with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The novel follows three men sent to Dallas to take care of the aftermath. Ward Littell is sent by J. Edgar Hoover to make sure that the lone gunman theory is the most plausible one remaining. Pete Bondurant is sent in from Las Vegas to take care of the cleanup of the operation. And Wayne Tedrow, Jr. from the Las Vegas PD is sent in to find a fugitive carrying with him the cold six thousand which turns out to be the catalyst that destroys his life. Wayne does not realize that his father (a prominent Klan sympathizer) has arranged for this to ensure that his son is there in Dallas for this historical moment.
The story follows these characters from the time of the JFK assassination and it's aftermath across the entire decade of the 60s. A decade portrayed unlike it's usual reputation of revolution and flower children. This story is sordid beyond belief and makes a good case that this was the endemic nature of the decade itself, at least at the level of the government of the United States. James Ellroy turns every imagined horrible fact about the various cataclysmic events in the 60s and makes it inevitable in this story. This novel is a conspiracy theory on steroids, and most of what it considers factual has been dismissed by journalists. However, it is not so difficult to slip into the despair of this novel. When it comes to politics, it is not hard to convince yourself of the most sordid theories, whether it was the 1960s or any other time in history including the present. In this novel, Ellroy makes this conviction of ubiquitous corruption come easily to your mind.
Ward Littell is assigned to infiltrate the civil rights movement while Pete and Wayne are sent to Vietnam to set up a gun-running operation into Cuba funded by drug sales in Las Vegas (only to the African Americans, of course). Their terrible fate follows them until the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy are the only alternatives left. The arc ends there for this novel, but the same collusions have continued far past the time period of this novel. A book about Iran-Contra and Oliver North should be a natural sequel to this one.
From a computational linguistics perspective, this novel is interesting due to the predominantly mono-clausal sentences, the short average sentence length, and the heavy use of pronouns and other kinds of anaphora that are employed to keep the discourse coherent in this style of writing. Should be an interesting corpus of text for certain kinds of CL research.
Thanks to M. Osborne for lending me a book and for the kind warning not to read it which I ignored.
%T The Cold Six Thousand %A James Ellroy %I Vintage %P 672 %D 2001 %G ISBN: 037572740X (pb) %K crime-fiction
Review written: 2002/10/13Posted by anoop at January 3, 2006 02:30 PM