James Ellroy’s first hard-boiled novel, Brown’s Requiem (1981), and his first series, the Lloyd Hopkins trilogy (1984-1986), were set in the present. Of varying quality when viewed through the perspective of time, these novels sold well and established two of the author’s characteristics: a pessimistic outlook blended with romanticism and shocking violence mixed with dark humor. In the years that followed, Ellroy was recognized for his skill in resurrecting the feel of postwar Los Angeles. The Black Dahlia (1987), a fictionalized account of a genuine, still-unsolved 1947 murder, launched his best-selling noir-flavored L.A. quartet.
Beginning with American Tabloid (1995), Ellroy has moved beyond the confines of Southern California. His American Underworld/Underworld USA trilogy forges creative links between real and imagined figures connected to crimes surrounding major historical events of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Since Ellroy arrived on the literary scene, his novels have been critically acclaimed for the author’s innate, if quirky, storytelling abilities. The novels have been commercially successful as well: Six Ellroy works have been made into well-received motion pictures, and several others are potentially forthcoming.
Though his plots have become more intricate, Ellroy’s real concern has always been the contradictory nature of character. He closely examines the evils that good people do in the pursuit of justice and the good hidden in the worst of society’s inhabitants. His insights into criminal behavior, his intricate plotting, his ear for dialogue, and his stripped-down, rhythmic prose have lifted Ellroy into an elite class: one of only a few modern crime writers whose work transcends genre and approaches literature.