The best books by the king of LA noir James Ellroy

Steven Powell Author Of Love Me Fierce In Danger: The Life of James Ellroy
By Steven Powell

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by James Ellroy’s life and writing since I first discovered it as a lonely teenager on a rainswept family holiday. He went through dark times; the unsolved murder of his mother and his subsequent struggles with addiction. But how he overcame this to become one of America’s greatest writers is an inspiring story and has inspired me to get through my own personal turmoil. Indeed, many Ellroy readers will attest to how his life story and writing helped them overcome their struggles. Now as Ellroy’s biographer, I am continually drawn back to his work. Reading just a few pages allows me to contemplate what Ellroy calls ‘the Wonder’.


I wrote...

Love Me Fierce In Danger: The Life of James Ellroy

By Steven Powell,

Book cover of Love Me Fierce In Danger: The Life of James Ellroy

What is my book about?

Love Me Fierce in Danger is the story of James Ellroy, one of the most provocative and singular figures in American literature. The so-called “Demon Dog of Crime Fiction,” Ellroy enjoys a celebrity status and notoriety that few authors can match. However, traumas from the past have shadowed his literary success.

When Ellroy was ten years old, his mother was brutally murdered. The crime went unsolved, and her death marked the start of a long and turbulent road for Ellroy that has included struggles with alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, and jail time. At its heart, Love Me Fierce in Danger is the story of how Ellroy overcame his demons to become the bestselling and celebrated author of such classics as The Black Dahlia and LA Confidential.

The books I picked & why

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Brown's Requiem

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of Brown's Requiem

Why this book?

This was James Ellroy’s debut novel and has been all but forgotten compared to the masterpieces he later produced. But there is so much in this book that reveals why Ellroy was destined for greatness: strong plotting, vivid characters, electrifying prose. The plot involves a car repo man who takes on a private eye case for an oddball golf caddy. The plot owes a lot to Raymond Chandler, but it still feels original in Ellroy’s hands. Allow yourself to be swept away by it.

Brown's Requiem

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Brown's Requiem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beneath the slick, glittering surface of L.A., an underworld of depravity and wickedness reins. Fritz Brown is a part-time private eye and full-time repo-man who gets his kicks listening to classical music. But the waters get too deep for Brown when he takes a case from a cash-flashing golf caddy named Freddy “Fat Dog” Baker that puts him on the trail of his client’s sister and the older gentleman she’s run off with. But more suspicious than his sister, a classy cellist, is Fat Dog himself, who has a past more sordid than he lets on. Diving into a cesspool…


The Black Dahlia

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of The Black Dahlia

Why this book?

Without question, the book that made Ellroy a literary celebrity. If it were not for The Black Dahlia, he might never have gotten past midlist sales and could have been forgotten. It’s based on the real-life unsolved murder of Elizabeth Short in LA, 1947. The subject is personal to Ellroy as his mother Jean Ellroy was also murdered in a case that went unsolved. Ellroy’s unforgettable fictional solution to Short’s murder is set against the backdrop of LA in its postwar boomtown years. The writing is so visceral that by the end of the book, the story will feel personal to the reader too.

The Black Dahlia

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Black Dahlia as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The highly acclaimed novel based on America's most infamous unsolved murder case. Dive into 1940s Los Angeles as two cops spiral out of control in their hunt for The Black Dahlia's killer in this powerful thriller that is "brutal and at the same time believable" (New York Times).
On January 15, 1947, the torture-ravished body of a beautiful young woman is found in a Los Angeles vacant lot. The victim makes headlines as the Black Dahlia -- and so begins the greatest manhunt in California history. Caught up in the investigation are Bucky Bleichert and Lee Blanchard: Warrants Squad cops,…


The Big Nowhere

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of The Big Nowhere

Why this book?

This is a personal favourite as it’s the Ellroy novel that carries the biggest emotional punch. Although it didn’t match the sales of its predecessor The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere is a more accomplished novel. The setting is LA, 1950. A murder plot is interweaved with the politics of the Red Scare, and a Hollywood milieu at the height of the film noir age. This is the novel that proved Ellroy was a literary writer, and not just a genre one.

The Big Nowhere

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Big Nowhere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The D. A.'s brass, a sheriff's deputy, and a rough-and-tumble bagman are unknowingly chasing a nightmare in this thrilling novel from the author of "some of the most powerful crime novels ever written" (New York Times).
Los Angeles, 1950 Red crosscurrents: the Commie Scare and a string of brutal mutilation killings. Gangland intrigue and Hollywood sleaze. Three cops caught in a hellish web of ambition, perversion, and deceit. Danny Upshaw is a Sheriff's deputy stuck with a bunch of snuffs nobody cares about; they're his chance to make his name as a cop...and to sate his darkest curiosities. Mal Considine…


White Jazz

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of White Jazz

Why this book?

Ellroy at his most avant-garde. The plot is familiar territory for Ellroy fans; murder and political corruption in 1950s LA. But the experimental prose style, including the most pared-down clipped sentences, started to alienate some of his readers. Personally, I regard the book as Ellroy’s masterpiece and the experimentation is justified as it helps to deliver a lightning-fast pace.

White Jazz

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked White Jazz as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The internationally acclaimed author of the L.A. Quartet and The Underworld USA Trilogy, James Ellroy, presents another literary noir masterpiece of historical paranoia.

Los Angeles, 1958. Killings, beatings, bribes, shakedowns--it's standard procedure for Lieutenant Dave Klein, LAPD. He's a slumlord, a bagman, an enforcer--a power in his own small corner of hell. Then the Feds announce a full-out investigation into local police corruption, and everything goes haywire.

Klein's been hung out as bait, "a bad cop to draw the heat," and the heat's coming from all sides: from local politicians, from LAPD brass, from racketeers and drug kingpins--all of them…


American Tabloid

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of American Tabloid

Why this book?

With American Tabloid, Ellroy’s ambitions as a writer reached an epic scale. He was still writing historical fiction, but now he embraced a national landscape, leaving behind the LA setting he had mostly confined himself to in his earlier novels. American Tabloid was the first novel in his Underworld USA trilogy, covering the events that led to President Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963. It’s a stunning work of historical fiction that led me to reexamine my views of American history.

American Tabloid

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked American Tabloid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first novel in Ellroy's extraordinary Underworld USA Trilogy as featured on BBC Radio 4's A Good Read.

1958. America is about to emerge into a bright new age - an age that will last until the 1000 days of John F Kennedy's presidency.

Three men move beneath the glossy surface of power, men allied to the makers and shakers of the era. Pete Bondurant - Howard Hughes's right-hand man, Jimmy Hoffa's hitman. Kemper Boyd - employed by J Edgar Hoover to infiltrate the Kennedy clan. Ward Littell - a man seeking redemption in Bobby Kennedy's drive against organised crime.…


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