White Jazz (1992) by James Ellroy

The book begins with some newspaper cuttings setting the scene in Los Angeles in late 1958, one of which tells us that Lieutenant David Klein is part of a protective custody detail at a downtown hotel. Chapter 1 of Klein’s stream of consciousness narrative shows us that he bends the rules and then Chapter 2 shows just how corrupt he is when he throws a witness out of a ninth-floor window for a mob boss.

His superiors cover up for him as the LAPD needs to stand together against a Federal investigation and they are all compromised one way or another. Klein is assigned to a burglary at the home of the Kafesjian’s, the police department’s sanctioned drug pushers. This causes him to begin to investigate the family’s affairs, although I was never quite sure why he was so determined to get the bottom of their personal sordid tragedy given everything else that starts to happen to him. 

The book is grounded in fact – Micky Cohen was a gangster, who did meet evangelist Bill Graham, and his affiliate Johnny Stompanato was killed by actress Lana Turner’s daughter in what was ruled justifiable homicide. However, as “Death on the Nile” taught me, you can’t libel the dead, which is just as well given what Joan Crawford gets up to at one point!

The language is consistently offensive and that’s just the slang that I could understand. Initially I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to wade through 350 pages but as this was for my 100 Greatest Literary Detectives project I persevered and I found it did grip me and I wanted to know what the central mystery was and who was going to survive as the body count escalated. But it’s not a book that I would recommend to anyone.



2 thoughts on “White Jazz (1992) by James Ellroy”

  1. I have been unable to read any Ellroy since L. A. Confidential. Which is one of the great masterpieces of noirboiled, alas.



    1. I watched LA Confidential, having seen a bit of it before, and kept waiting for a particular scene, and it never occurred. Then I realised what I was thinking of was from The Untouchables.


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