So—should readers approach Widespread Panic...with trepidation? Thankfully not. This 1950s standalone outing, told in a lacerating first person, represents the barely coherent confessions of a corrupt cop who has become an equally compromised private investigator for the scandal mag Confidential ... (with real-life figures galore—such as film star James Dean—all handled in scurrilous fashion) ... Purgatory is rarely this much fun.
Widespread Panic unfolds in shimmering Ellroyvision. In recounting his sinful past, Freewheeling Freddy mainlines the repetitive rhumba of his scandal sheet until it’s become the mother’s milk of his speech and psyche, and he bops to alliteration’s alluring algorithm. The surrealistic, sex’n’violence sequences featuring real people from the semi-recent past may be disconcerting for some readers. Is this posthumous sexploitation? A pornographic flipbook making unlicensed use of famous forms and faces? Or merely the tall-tale purgative of a frantic Purgatorian? Each door is left ajar.
Immediately recognizable, Ellroy’s prose—an exuberant, alliterative staccato that could be described as camp noir—requires attention and some persistence. His witty verbiage can serve as pleasure and obstacle both. And perhaps needless to say, reader be warned, the world depicted in Widespread Panic...is sexist, racist, and violent, as befits the Los Angeles, and the United States, of the Fifties ... [an] elaborate thriller ... there is here, as in Ellroy’s other novels, so fully researched and plausible an evocation of the world about which he writes, so deft an intermingling of the real and fictional characters that the novelist asks the reader to believe that these events could have happened, and that some of them (Jack Kennedy’s exhaustive and exhausting philandering, for example) probably did.
This book’s plot—Freddy’s hunt for a couple of mystery women—is hard to pick out against the background of sleaze and nonstop violence. Freddy narrates the book in prime Confidential style: all alliteration and punchy sentences. Each time-hopping section starts with a blurb from Freddy—these he delivers from Pervert Purgatory, two decades after his death. A weakness in this book is Ellroy’s use of a single narrator, instead of the multiple narrators he uses in previous books; readers never get an escape from Freddy and after a while, it’s too much ... There’s energy in this book, as in all of Ellroy’s fiction, but here it wears the reader down as much as it excites.
This devious and delicious side trip into the life and exploits of real-life Hollywood fixer Fred Otash from MWA Grand Master Ellroy...has a cool conceit ... Numerous celebrities appear in suitably compromising positions, including Rock Hudson, Jack Kennedy, and a sizzling cast of Hollywood femmes fatale. The infamous rape spree of Caryl Chessman (aka the Red Light Bandit) adds another layer of sordidness. Ellroy’s total command of the jazzy, alliterative argot of the era never fails to astonish. This is a must for L.A. noir fans.
A noirish romp through the sewage of 1950s Hollywood sleaze. This entertainingly hop-headed narrative seems to occupy a tangled place in the author’s often cross-connected oeuvre ... Those coming to this fresh will find the author operating at maximum efficiency, mainlining a primo blend of over-the-top alliteration and down-in-the-gutter scandal ... any mystery, or any plot, actually, simply serves as a peg on which the author hangs the supposedly dirty laundry of his cast of dozens ... It’s a delirious thrill ride through the tabloid underbelly of Tinseltown, though it runs out of gas before providing much of a climax. Relentlessly rabid, for those with a taste for the seamier.