Blood's a Rover, By James Ellroy

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The Independent Culture

This is a stonking, powerful, masculine beast of a book. The story involves the FBI, Black Power groups, Republicans, Democrats, mobsters, Communists, white supremacists, Mormons, Nixon, Hoover, Liston and a gigantic cast of informers, infiltrators, criminals and corrupt cops, all struggling for power in the bubbling cauldron of the US between 1968 and 1972.

The sprawling narrative is focalised through three characters: Wayne Tedrow Jr, a chemist who keeps Howard Hughes in drugs and a serial murderer who, though sympathetic to the civil-rights movement, keeps killing black people; Dwight Holly, a ruthless FBI agent who fraternises with Communist women; and Don Crutchfield, a private investigator.

Ellroy's style is laconic, telegrammatic, shot through with vivid slang. He paints pictures in the fewest possible words and has a nice line in hyphenated epithets. At times, it feels as tough as reading Ulysses – but it's well worth the effort.

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