cover image Widespread Panic

Widespread Panic

James Ellroy. Knopf, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-31934-5

This devious and delicious side trip into the life and exploits of real-life Hollywood fixer Fred Otash from MWA Grand Master Ellroy (The Storm) has a cool conceit: Otash dies of a massive coronary in 1992, but has spent the last three decades stuck in purgatory, and his only way out is a full confession of his lifetime of misdeeds; and confess Otash does. In the 1950s, Otash transforms himself from bent cop to even more crooked private eye, delivering the dirt on Hollywood celebs, outing communist party members, and exposing then-verboten interracial relationships. When puritanical Chief William Parker of the LAPD builds a righteous legal case against Otash, he strikes a deal to let the ex-cop slide in exchange for help in taking down the salacious tabloid Confidential. And so Otash embarks on a dangerous path of playing both sides against the middle. Numerous celebrities appear in suitably compromising positions, including Rock Hudson, Jack Kennedy, and a sizzling cast of Hollywood femmes fatale. The infamous rape spree of Caryl Chessman (aka the Red Light Bandit) adds another layer of sordidness. Ellroy’s total command of the jazzy, alliterative argot of the era never fails to astonish. This is a must for L.A. noir fans. (June)