In Perfidia, James Ellroy launches his new L.A. quartet, which is set on the eve of Pearl Harbor.
How long have you been considering writing a second L.A. Quartet?
I have been brain-broiling the Second L.A. Quartet for half a decade. The L.A. Quartet—The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz—covered 1946 to 1958 in Los Angeles. The Underworld U.S.A. Trilogy—American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, and Blood’s a Rover—covers 1958 to 1972 on a national scale. The Second L.A. Quartet takes historical and fictional characters from the first two bodies of work and places them in Los Angeles during World War II, as significantly younger people. Thus, my career as a historical novelist is augmented and rendered that much more grand.
Why did you decide to start this series in December 1941?
Everything changed on December 7, 1941. The debate between interventionism and isolationism ended when Japanese bombs hit Pearl Harbor, and the shock waves were immediately felt in Los Angeles, home of the largest foreign-born and native-born Japanese contingent in the United States. Los Angeles in 1941 was a place of unprecedented political and human drama.
Apart from the obvious, how will the second quartet differ from the first?
The novels of the original L.A. Quartet were historical crime novels; the novels of the Second L.A. Quartet would best be described as historical romances. “Romance” says it all: big love affairs, big political upheavals, big racial conflict, big police investigations.
As you researched 1941 Los Angeles, what surprised you the most?
I developed a sense of Los Angeles at desperate and urgent play. Wild promiscuity, fabulous fistfights, a crazed sense of purpose overtaking Los Angeles itself. Great Big Band music, car crashes during blackouts, and the Sunset Strip, hopping around the clock.
What time span will the remaining three books in the series cover?
The Second L.A. Quartet is a single narrative, broken down into four novels that will stretch from December 6, 1941, to V-J Day in August of 1945. Thus, the entirety of the U.S. participation in World War II is covered, from its inception in home-front L.A. through to a triumphant parade down Hollywood Boulevard at war’s end.
Are there themes shared by all your fiction?
All great drama is a man meets a woman. There is that melded with the central theme of my work: the secret human infrastructure of large public events.
If you were writing the first quartet today, how would you do it differently, if at all?
I wouldn’t change one word, big daddy-o!