Mysterious Book Report Brown’s RequiemBrown’s Requiem by James Ellroy

Perennial Harper Collins, PB $13.99, 348 pages, ISBN # 978-0-380-73177-0

Los Angeles, California has long been the epicenter for crime fiction of all types. They include police procedurals, courtroom dramas and private eye yarns by a long list of world class authors like Raymond Chandler, Earle Stanley Gardner and Dashiel Hammett from the golden age of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, as well as more modern writers such as Joseph Wambaugh, Walter Mosley and Michael Connelly.  One of my personal favorites however, is a perennial heavyweight, “The dark poet of noir fiction,” whose stories routinely take bleak and unexpected turns on the way to a dazzling and electrifying conclusion.  I’m referring to James Ellroy, who is one of the greatest living writers of noir fiction in the world.  Ellroy’s life has been marked by tragedy, homelessness, drug abuse and alcoholism, crime and time in jail.  He has incorporated all of his life experiences into his writing, and it makes his prose and narratives pop and sizzle with an electric intensity that grabs the reader on page one and never lets go until the conclusion.

Brown’s Requiem, by James Ellroy was first published in 1981, and republished in 2001, and it’s only gotten better with age.  The protagonist, Fritz Brown, has been cold sober for nine months and six days.  He’s a licensed California private eye who works and lives in Los Angeles, a disgraced former LAPD vice cop, kicked off the force for violence and drunkenness, an enthusiast of German classical music, who pays his bills by doing repossessions for Cal Meyers, a big time automotive operator with several Los Angeles new and used car dealerships.

The tale begins when, after a successful repo, some instinct tells Fritz that his life is about to change.  A short time later it does, when an overweight, badly dressed homeless man by the name of Freddy Baker, ‘Fat Dog’ to those who know him, walks into Fritz’s office and hires him.  The job is to tail Fat Dog’s sister for a week; find out what her relationship is to an older man she’s living with in Hollywood.  Fat Dog makes his money as a professional golf caddy, working at various country clubs in and around Los Angeles . . . and he’s carrying around a wad of money amounting to thousands of dollars.  But, it’s not the only strange thing Fritz notices about Fat Dog, whose kinky ideas and weird behaviors turn a routine surveillance job into a deadly hunt for a serial arsonist and stone cold killer as Fritz attempts to solve a decades old mass murder.  Take time out from reading the ‘latest and greatest’ and get familiar with some of the ‘older and bolder’ classics of crime fiction.  See for yourself why James Ellroy is the undisputed master of noir.


John Dwaine McKenna