The author of L.A. Confidential returns with another look at the seedy underbelly of 1950s Los Angeles. This time corrupt cop Freddy Otash confesses to the sins he committed and witnessed among a circus of celebrities during his time on the beat—and as a strong-arm goon for gossip rag Confidential magazine.
... quintessential Ellroy, but with enough alliteration, Hollyweird flavor, booze, distressed damsels, communist conspiracies, and extortion to make this the most Ellroy novel he's ever written ... There are many superb elements here, but Otash's voice is what makes Widespread Panic wildly entertaining and memorable. Fast, snappy, and with a level of alliteration that dances between the brilliant and the ridiculous, Otash's voice is unlike anything else in contemporary fiction. It also contextualizes 1950s Hollyweird in full sin-emascope and nails the political gestalt of the decade, especially in LA ... Besides his memorable voice, Otash is, surprisingly, a likeable character ... This book packs in everything Ellroy has obsessed about over the course of his career. There are echoes of American Tabloid here, the Black Dahlia makes an appearance, and it's a spiritual companion to L.A. Confidential. Nazi paraphernalia and smut films abound. However, Ellroy makes it feel fresh, and as Freddy O va-va-vooms on the hot-prowl downing Dexedrine and gulping Old Crow for breakfast, buckling up and reading on becomes the only option ... a macho noir-ish romp complete with historically accurate racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks. Anyone who's read Ellroy before—or heard him talk—knows his penchant for the underbelly of 1950s Hollywood can make his work ... not safe for work. But the stunning explosion of language he plasters on the page here is definitely worth the ride.
Widespread Panic is not so much a reading experience as an immersion into a time (the 1950s) and place (Los Angeles). The events described by author James Ellroy become more real by virtue of his (occasional) exaggeration in a work that is ostensibly historical fiction. Even the prose that he spits out staccato-style is more than what it appears to be. His sentences are usually short and loaded with alliteration, even as they are cringe-inducing in content and description, designed to elicit enough cuts and bruises to exhaust a giant box of wholesale club bandages. In Widespread Panic, they trample readers and then merrily drag them along ... The stories --- particularly those that never saw the light of day --- are graphic, stunning and in many instances hilarious ... No punches are pulled, and no literary expense is spared. Just to prove that too much of a good thing does not exist, Ellroy is working on a sequel to this book. Please, sir. Write quickly. And don’t forget Bob Crane.
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.