James Ellroy’s novel Blood’s a Rover is the final installment in the author’s Underworld U.S.A. trilogy. The first novel, American Tabloid (1995), covered the abortive American attack on Cuba and the Bay of Pigs crisis in 1963 as well as its aftermath and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The second novel, The Cold Six Thousand (2001), further detailed the interweaving of government agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with organized crime and led up to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blood’s a Rover picks up soon after the end of The Cold Six Thousand, further relating the struggles, both external and internal, of former police officer (and onetime vigilante) Wayne Tedrow and his friend, FBI agent Dwight Holly, from 1968 through 1972.
Stylistically, Blood’s a Rover is similar in cadence to The Cold Six Thousand. Ellroy uses slang and short, choppy sentences with very little setup or description to develop his story; very few paragraphs are longer than three sentences. Ellroy employs the staccato rhythms and beats of everyday speechand particularly the slang of the period covered in the novelto keep the pace of the lengthy, 639-page novel rapid and edgy. While the style can be wearying, it is unique and speaks to Ellroy’s willingness to challenge the tropes of detective fiction, as his plots have always demonstrated. In a strategy also similar to that the previous novels, Ellroy primarily divides his narrative between three characters: Wayne, Dwight, and Donald “Crutch” Crutchfield. Much of the tension of the novel takes the form of dramatic irony; readers realize that a fact discovered by one of the protagonists would be revelatory to another protagonist, but readers cannot be sure whether those characters’ paths will intersect in the right time and way.
Like its two predecessors, Blood’s a Rover is a book that bores down through the surface happenings of American history and posits a tumultuous, interwoven, and complicated underworld of dark ambitions and hidden manipulations. As in the previous novels of the trilogy, as well as the earlier novels of Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet, Blood’s a Rover makes use of real-world public and underworld figures. Ellroy appropriates and offers characterizations of J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary founder of the FBI; Hollywood actor Sal Mineo; Howard Hughes, the famously reclusive and troubled billionaire; President Richard Nixon; and notorious underworld figures such as Sam Giancana, Santo Trafficante, Jr., and Carlos Marcello. Ellroy’s portrayal of Hoover is particularly unkind, depicting him as a man obsessed with subjugating African Americans and making use of the national fear of communism to build his own power base.
Two of the novel’s three protagonists previously appeared in The Cold Six Thousand. Dwight Holly returns as J. Edgar Hoover’s subtle and tough “enforcer.” He is joined in the narrative by former policeman Wayne Tedrow. Dwight previously helped Wayne in a vendetta against the man who raped and killed his wife. In taking his revenge, Wayne found himself in the debt of powerful people. Doing the bidding of various underworld and right-wing interests (including Hoover) in the previous novel, the two men helped bring about the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. In Blood’s a Rover, Dwight, still in the FBI and still working primarily for Hoover on clandestine operations, is tasked with infiltrating and bringing down any of the various militant African American groups rising to power in the late 1960’s, such as the Black Panthers or (in the case of the novel) the Black Tribe Alliance (BTA) and the Mau Mau Liberation Front (MMLF).
Wayne, on the other hand, uses his notoriety as a former vigilante and the son of a notorious right-wing personality to ingratiate himself with the reclusive billionaire Hughes. Wayne...
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