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.
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.