Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, crime fiction writer James Ellroy has become a master of the modern noir, with countless bestsellers celebrated for their gritty storytelling, intricate plots, and morally complex characters. His breakthrough came with the 1987 novel, The Black Dahlia – a gripping exploration of a real-life unsolved murder case in 1940s L.A – which marked the first of his acclaimed “L.A. Quartet” series.
Also comprised of The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz, the collection delves deep into the underbelly of post-war Los Angeles, weaving tales of corruption, violence, and social decay. His next series, the “Underworld USA Trilogy,” also blends historical events with fiction, painting a vivid portrait of American society during a period of profound political upheaval. Ellroy incorporates Marilyn Monroe’s mysterious death into his latest work, The Enchanters, to take readers on a wild ride through ’60s Hollywood.
Sharing six of his greatest literary influences with The Week, Ellroy included harrowing, hard-boiled work by the likes of John D. MacDonald, Don DeLillo and John Gregory Dunne. Dive into his recommendations below, and complement with the crime-ridden bookshelves of Ian Rankin, Lee Child and Tana French.
James Ellroy’s Reading List
The Deceivers by John D. MacDonald
“The author of the Travis McGee series wrote a number of lesser-known novels. They hold up very handily — in a literary sense. They largely deal with adultery and alcoholism in 1950s America, but have none of the laborious arty-fartiness of Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. They are harrowing, bitter, and reek of desperation.” -JE
The Gabriel Allon series by Daniel Silva
“I’ve read 19 of Mr. Silva’s books in the past six months, so the plots have melded together, but their great and timely theme is the defense of the West. The protagonist, Gabriel Allon, is an Old Master restorer and Mossad hitman. When he’s not bumping off radical Islamists and IRA gunmen, he’s tracking down Nazi plunder or saving the pope.” -JE
Compulsion by Meyer Levin
“Compulsion is based on the Leopold and Loeb killing. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb were brilliant college graduates who, at 19, decided to perform the perfect motiveless crime, and killed a boy named Bobby Franks. Levin deftly portrays affluent Jewish-American life in 1920s Chicago — a crackerjack book. P.S.: They should have fried for this caper!!!!!” -JE
True Confessions by John Gregory Dunne
“One of two enduring works of art on the Black Dahlia murder, my book being the other. Written by the late husband of Joan Didion, it is a fantastical portrayal of L.A. after World War II. He distorts many of the facts, which allowed me the wiggle room to write my own book 10 years later.” -JE
“I credit this great novel on the Kennedy assassination with inspiring my entire Underworld USA Trilogy.” -JE
Portrait in Smoke by Bill S. Ballinger
“This is the ultimate evil woman novel. It’s set in mid-century Chicago, and charts the comeuppance of an obsessed bill collector and a stunningly provocative psychopath. Ooooooooh, Daddy-O — this one will lash your libido and bite your boogaloo!!!!!” -JE
(via The Week; photo by Theo Stroomer)
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