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Playboy Fiction Review: "Perfida" by James Ellroy

Issue: September 2014

Novel Exerpt: from Perfida (2014)

Author: James Ellroy

Rating: $$

Review: When you read a book or short story by James Ellroy, you pretty much know what to expect. It will be a crime/detective story. It will be set in Los Angeles. It will take place in the 1930s or 1940s. And above all, it will be pure noir. James Ellroy did not invent noir but he is the reigning Champion, the King, the Chairman of the Board of modern day noir fiction. And when it comes to L.A. noir -- a separate and distinct category -- forget about it: he's God. So it's no surprise that this story (novel) takes place in Los Angeles in 1941 and that it's good.

This part of the novel takes place not only in 1941, but on the night before a very infamous date in 1941...you guessed it: the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even more interesting is that one of the main characters in the book, Detective Ashida, is gay and a Japanese American. Imagine how weird things are going to get for him in about 24 hours. That, I'm guessing, is the premise or undercarriage of Perfida and frankly, it sounds pretty interesting.

In this particular chapter, Ashida and his partner, Pinker, are setting up a crude sort of surveillance
Points for the seersucker and dashing
pocket square.
camera -- as best as they could in 1941 -- in order to catch the license plate numbers of cars that part outside a frequently-robbed drugstore in order to catch the thief. The cars trip the wire, a camera snaps a photo of the car's plates. Only while they're in the process of testing the device, he actually witnesses the drugstore being robbed. Only Ashida doesn't react right away because he wants to watch the robbery unfold in order to collect evidence. What ensues is a little scene-by-scene breakdown of how Ashida and Pinker work together, how Ashida deals with the ambient racism that's rampant in the L.A. of the 40s.

In the balance, it's just a good, old fashioned, hard-boiled crime story with crackling dialogue and that dark, dirty, greasy, slimy, noiry feeling throughout. I might actually pick this book up...in about a year when it costs $1.00 at Half Price Books. A savings of about 2,600%, I'd say!

Look, James Ellroy doesn't need me out here shilling for his next book, and I've got other things to do. So, suffice it to say, I enjoyed this story cause...come on...it's James Ellroy. And if you like crime/noir stories and you haven't read any Ellroy...remedy that situation.

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