A version of this book review appeared in “Dune’s Landing”, a defunct blog and writing website. It has been lightly edited and presented here.
I finally sat down and read “Brown’s Requiem”, the first book by James Ellroy. Ellroy was a golf caddy for many years, and his mom was murdered as a child. That’s the two pieces of information that you need to know about this book. Ellroy paints a classic crime narrative, easily befitting the elements of noir cinema that you’d expect from the past. The book is treated far more like a pulp fiction story than it is a novel. Even though the length puts this at novel’s length, you’ll find that this is definitely hard hitting crime story that pulls several tropes out of the Raymond Chandler arena, before setting it all on fire with some graphic gore, and horror elements to shake things up.
The Former Alcoholic Cop Gets Redemption
At the heart of “Brown’s Requiem” is a redemption story. The plot is simple enough. A disgraced ex-cop, turned repo man gets caught up in a private detective job. Fritz Brown has to figure out why a certain golf caddie seems to have a lot of money, and is walking from murder. He beats the murder conviction and is starting to get involved with serious crime elements. Is it the mob? Is there a cabal working under the scenes of Hollywood and Los Angeles?
The story unfolds through various tropes that you would expect from a good Hollywood crime flick, and Ellroy doesn’t hold back in turning his characters into portraits of a bygone era in Los Angeles. I’m from Los Angeles originally, so if you’re not familiar with the city, you will get lost in the streets and call outs to where Brown ends up. He is a native of Los Angeles, both in character and writing. That is good and bad, because if you aren’t familiar you will gloss over the marking points that Ellroy is trying to tell you about, in hopes that you have a sentimental or at least a cerebral connection point. It worked for me, but may not work for you.
Classical Music, Violence, Sex, and A Golf Mafia
The book flows well. Ellroy spent many years working as a caddy so the elements of his experiences bleed through the pages. The main character loves classical music, is an alcoholic, and has to go through some deep pathos before you start to like him overall. The book is hard to embrace when the ultraviolence is turned up, but if you’re a fan of horror or crime cinema, this feels like Quentin Tarantino would steal it for a major film focus. The golf elements make you think twice about who plays, and what goes on with the job of a caddy.
Star Rating For “Brown’s Requiem” by James Ellroy
I give this book a 4 out of 5. Here’s my final thoughts on the book, and it’s simple; it’s powerful crime writing. There are morality tropes, there are classical crime tropes, there is redemption, but it’s mired with true life. Fritz is a flawed anti-hero at times, and at others he plays the Jesus role in the sacrifice that he pulls through the third act. When things don’t wrap up quite well, clean, and with everyone happy, you’re ok with it. Ellroy doesn’t paint a happy picture, but one that definitely works out, because in the end, real life doesn’t work out with soft edges. Ellroy’s treatment of “Brown’s Requiem” and the characters is heavy handed, but not so hard that you will think he’s a sadist. At times you feel that you’re watching a movie in your head, or reading a journal from a former cop, as the story is told in the first person a great deal of the time. I invite you to sit back and enjoy “Brown’s Requiem” by James Ellroy as a noir crime story that isn’t concerned whether or not you’re reading it.
You can purchase “Brown’s Requiem” by James Ellroy by clicking here.
Have you read “Browns Requiem”? If so, tell me in the comments, and let me hear your thoughts.