How can anyone say that the film stuck closely to the book? They are completely different and both completely amazing works of art in their own medium and own right. For a start, the film as I remember it is over a time span of, at the msot, 2 years whereas the film is vitually the whole of the 1950's.
As this is a review of the book, I will shut up about the film, but you should see it.
The book is quite simply the best novel I have ever read. I am scared to read any other Ellroy novels, for fear that they just will not compete.
It takes a while to get used to the staccato style but once you do, you realise the brilliance in it - it makes you think in the main character's thought processes, not in narrative action. The character development is quite stunning, one minute you side with Exley, the next with White, the next with Vincennes. and none of them are anywhere near perfect, all flawed characters, we empathise and sympathise at different times. One minute I hated Exley, the next I was almost crying for him.
The ending is, in my mind, better than the films, although (and I am trying not to spoil it for you), there is some unfinished business that makes you mad, until you realise that it is more realistic. The last paragraph before the short ending chapter is quite magnificent in summing up Los Angeles in the 1950's, using the metaphor of 2 of the less major characters.
When I first read it, I was actually in LA which made it all the more real, and it was only after I had travelled up to Alcatraz and seen that Mickey Cohen was a real person (he did time on the island), that I realised some of the bit-part players were 'real-people'. This only serves to make an already confusing book more confusing as you never know which events in the book really happened and which didn't. Further, the Raymond Dieterling character is extremely similar to Walt Disney, which, considering what happens in the story, is quite spooky, and Ellroy must have sailed close to the wind in terms of libel.
There is no way that the book could have been exactly copied into film format, without it being a 12 hour epic (I wouldn't mind though!), as the book has so many charatcers and subplots, 3 hours is just not enough. On the second read I discovered more and understood more and I 'm sure by the tenth read I will still be discoveing new things. The first time you read the book, once you have finished, you fell like you have climbed Everest - -you really do have to concentrate. But it is entirely worth it. This review is garbled and it is only because I am still so excited by the book that i am just typing as I think.
Read it then watch the film. Or the other wat around. It doesn't really matter.
One last thing...you will never look at Mickey Mouse in the same way again!