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James Ellroy Divulges A Few Dirty Secrets

James Ellroy's new novel, <em>Blood's a Rover,</em> concludes his "Underworld USA" crime trilogy.
Gabriel Bouys
James Ellroy's new novel, Blood's a Rover, concludes his "Underworld USA" crime trilogy.

In crime writer James Ellroy's world, every conspiracy theory you ever heard about the 1960s was true — and there are even more that you never knew. The author continues to rewrite much of modern history as we know it in Blood's a Rover, the novel that concludes his "Underworld USA" trilogy.

Re-imagining history is a task the author is thrilled to take up.

"I get to rewrite American history to my own specifications," he tells Steve Inskeep. "I get to assassinate public leaders ... have a blast, use the grooviest drugs of the era, and no one gets hurt — and they pay me."

Even though Ellroy admits to having had "an unimaginably dim social sense" during the 1960s, he says the themes and circumstances of the decade provide an inexhaustible source of material.

"Years later, a theme came to me after I had written numerous police novels, and here it is: the private nightmare of public policy ... the small lives, the love affairs eclipsed by the big tidal wave of history," Ellroy says.

Ellroy's protagonist in Blood's a Rover is Don Crutchfield, a Peeping Tom who gets lucky when he scores a job as a private investigator, turning his obsession into a profession. Ellroy drew his inspiration from a real Hollywood private eye, also named Don Crutchfield.

"[The real Crutchfield] was a wheelman back in the '60s" says Ellroy. "He would hang out at gas stations in West Hollywood waiting for calls from divorce lawyers to tail cheating wives and spouses in hot rod cars, kick in the door and get pictures of the fools in flagrante."

Ellroy typically begins his novels by creating a dense outline; in the case of Blood's a Rover, the outline ran 397 pages long, which, the author says, allows for "the densest possible reading experience."

As for his audience, Ellroy says he's writing for God, and for "people who are thrilled by history and all its shifting momentousness."

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