James Ellroy has a habit of introducing himself as “the demon dog, the foul owl with the death growl, the white knight of the far right, and the slick trick with the donkey dick” – which must be time consuming at parties.
The 67-year-old is the author of over a dozen novels – including LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia– which put him in serious contention to be considered the greatest living crime writer of our time. He’s also a scholar – and a fierce defender – of the LAPD.
His latest work, LAPD ’53, is a nonfiction collaboration with Glynn Martin of the Los Angeles Police Museum. The pair had planned a photographic history of the force but, having combed the archives, they realised that 1953 alone provided enough disquieting crime scene photography and lurid stories to fill their book. As he tells the story of each of the featured crimes, Ellroy’s prose is wildly entertaining and frequently hilarious, full of wisecracks and hepcat affectations.
However, the book is also shot through with what he calls his “reactionary nostalgia”: his unshakeable belief that America’s current ills could be solved by returning to the social conservatism of the 1950s.
We called up Ellroy at the Los Angeles Police Museum where the author, who speaks with same shit-talking, machine-gun wit as his characters, was in pugnacious form. We asked him whether poring over sixty-year-old photos of mutilated corpses got his creative juices flowing, whether LA is still a “perv zone” and if he really thinks that the American police can go on without reform after the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner and so many others.