James Ellroy: The ‘Demon Dog’ of Crime Writing

Oct 13, 2009 - by Patrick Quinn - 0 Comments

James Ellroy

James Ellroy

Ellroy, the author of major crime novels such as L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia and his non-fiction account of his search for his mother's killer, My Dark Places, is a fascinating story himself.

by Patrick Quinn

Every dog has his day … and James Ellroy is certainly having his. But he doesn’t wear an Ivy League stamp of approval – or frankly even that of a small town high. This man went to the school of hard knocks. He learned through tragedy … which led to obsession, thieving and even drugs … which led to a collection of best-selling crime novels and a home in Mission Hills (a wealthy suburb of Kansas City).

Let us first put out the Dog. Dog – AKA the Mad Dog of Crime Fiction, AKA Barko – is the public persona of novelist James Ellroy, who quietly moved to Kansas City in the summer of 1995.

The nickname dates from Ellroy’s famously troubled childhood. There are many, many published descriptions of Dog, even a documentary film about Dog, but for the purpose of introduction we will reproduce Kansas City Star book review editor George Gurley’s straightforward description of the performing Dog, taken from his account of Ellroy’s reading at the Writer’s Place last June. Ellroy was promoting his thirteenth book, My Dark Places, an autobiographical account of his mother’s unsolved 1958 murder and his 1994 reinvestigation of the case:

Wearing one of his trademark pineapple shirts, legs spread as if to brace himself for a physical struggle, Ellroy introduced himself with a stream of gaudy profanities and taboo sexual images in doggerel. Addressing his audience as "Hep cats," he howled like a coyote, frowned with menace and gestured dramatically. "These books are incendiary," he said reciting a list of his titles. "These books can cure AIDS and cancer. If you buy five copies of my books, you will be able to have unlimited sex with each and every person on this planet you choose every night of your life." He identified Barko, the hound in his familiar publicity photos, as the true author of his works, as well as the paramour of various celebrities and the assassin of John F. Kennedy,…

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