Alright, this whole “trilogy” thing has got to stop. I don’t know who thought of it first, but it seems like everything has to be part of one these days.
James Ellroy’s American Tabloid was sui generis, mixing hard-core crime fiction with tabloid sensationalism, heavily laced with famous names, and purporting to reveal the deepest secrets of American life in writing more like the sprayings of a machine gun than actual prose.
Could have left it at that.
Maybe it all started with “Star Wars,” with it’s triumphal arc of growth and redemption. But even then, George Lucas fell off his horse after two of them and “Return of The Jedi” remains to this day Exhibit A in what happens when merchandising becomes more important than the storytelling that got you there in the first place.
Likewise the first two “Godfather” films. By the time they got around to making III everyone had kind of forgotten how they got there. Eventually the “Mad Max” franchise made it seem like trilogies were a natural, forgetting that it was pure accident that there were only three of them in the first place. Or maybe there were more — who knows, who cares?
And then came “The Matrix,” which could have been 1.5 movies, since there were some good unanswered questions after the first. But sometimes leaving them unanswered is more interesting. Especially when the answers were as lame as the ones we got.
So I was saying, Tabloid took us all the way through the late ’50s and early ’60s, ripping the lid off the huge conspiracy behind JFK’s assassination. Wowie! Building on the critical and commercial success, we got volume II a few years later. I don’t even remember what it was called, let alone what happened. Something to do with RFK and MLK’s assassinations I presume.
But “My Dark Places” was so good, as was a collection of short fiction that came out in between, I was willing to give this one a shot (so to speak). And while he’s still got the power to shock, and to make you laugh out loud at the preposterousness of it all, the post-MLK assassination antics of the crew just aren’t cutting it. At least not 640+ pages worth.
So lots of people get killed, and do terrible things. And wonderful generous things. And there are movie stars who aren’t at all like what you might have thought, and J. Edgar Hoover and Redd Foxx and Sonny Liston. Howard Hughes, Richard Nixon, and Sam Giancana. But cynicism only takes you so far. The new Elmore Leonard has the line on page 9, “I’m grateful for the ways they are to improve myself since I come to La Yuma. I respect how justice wears a blindfold, like a fucking hostage.”
Which is even more cynical that rehashing how Hoover like to cross-dress, and a lot more punchy too. Sometimes even the best ones need a hard-core editor to keep them in check.